Today is the 40th anniversary of the first episode of Late Night with David Letterman, which debuted on this day in 1982 on NBC.
Letterman’s show inspired a generation of comedy writers, from his successors Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers to Peacemaker star Steve Agee, who used to write for O’Brien and later, for another Dave fan, Jimmy Kimmel.
“’82, oh my God,” Agee reminisced to ABC Audio. “Letterman changed everything for me, it was like, finally, there was a late-night host that like I really appreciated their…abstract sense of humor.”
He adds with a laugh, “It was, you know, way more different, you know, than Carson.”
Agee recalled, laughing, “There was an episode of Late Night with David Letterman, I think they called it ‘The 360 Show,’ where over the course of an hour, the camera rotated 360 degrees, so at 30 minutes you’re looking at a show completely upside down — and they never address it. This is just like, ‘OK, why not? Why not put on a Velcro suit and jump onto a Velcro wall?"”
Agee explained that even long after Dave left NBC for his CBS show, Late Night’s shadow still loomed over the format. “In the early 2000s, I was working at Jimmy Kimmel Live! and our head writer…was Steve O’Donnell, who was Dave Letterman’s head writer. Steve O’Donnell created the Top Ten list — like that was Steve…He was legendary…”
Letterman hosted Late Night for 11 seasons before moving to CBS in 1993, after Jay Leno took over as host of The Tonight Show — a job many expected would go to Letterman, including outgoing host Johnny Carson. Meyers came aboard Late Night in 2014 after Jimmy Fallon moved to The Tonight Show.
Tonight, Seth Meyers will welcome Letterman back to Late Night, to celebrate the milestone anniversary.
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