David Letterman closed the books on 11 1/2 years at NBC Friday amid complaints by show staffers the network failed to promote the finale in a manner befitting its stature. Program may have been among Letterman’s best. The talkshow host appeared particularly relaxed throughout the quick-paced presentation and became downright sentimental by its end when thanking those responsible for his tenure.
Letterman also deserves kudos for taking the high road by often mentioning and encouraging his replacement — Conan O’Brien — something Johnny Carson failed to do in his parting show.
Retrospective film clips of past sight-gags — highlighted by Letterman and Paul Shaffer lookalikes figure skating — joined the lineup of snappy repartee and zinging one-liners. An opening bit showing the “Cheers” cast leaving the bar when “Late Night” comes on the tube was a bullseyed critique aimed at the network.
Announced guest Tom Hanks was remarkably glib, easily matching Letterman’s acerbic wit with his own rapid fire delivery of anecdotes. The one-two punch of the duo pointed up Letterman’s skills as a host, as he gave Hanks, who is a good guest, the space to become a great one.
The much publicized “mystery guest” was revealed by many of L.A.’s evening newscasts as Bruce Springsteen. Why it was hyped as such a coup is hard to figure considering the singer’s higher-than-usual profile lately in an attempt to goose sluggish sales of his two-disc set.
The singer delivered a roaring version of “Glory Days” backed only by the “Late Night” band. But the expectation that the Boss would be joined by the Big Man — Clarence Clemmons, who Shaffer even mentioned — loomed large nonetheless.
Letterman’s new show bows on CBS at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 30.