Frequently Asked Questions (Part 1 of 3)

Skip to first unread message

Aaron Barnhart

Oct 20, 1996, 3:00:00 AM10/20/96

Archive-name: letterman/faq/part1
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list
Last-modified: Fri Jul 5 00:10:32 CDT 1996
Version: 9.12
Part 1 of 3

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
for the Newsgroup

From New York: Still the world's largest CHAT ROOM ...

It's the FAQ LIST for David Letterman!


the A. F. of L. newsgroup ...


FAQ compiler Aaron Barnhart ...


Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra ...

and now ...

a man who refuses to give up his clunky old Newton 110 ...


* * *

Top Ten Questions Asked on the A. F. of L. Newsgroup.

* * *

10. Where can I write to get free tickets to the Late Show?

ANSWER: Send a postcard (no letters) with your name and
address to

Late Show with David Letterman
Ed Sullivan Theater
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Requests are limited to 2 tickets. Only one request per
six months is allowed, and a response is not guaranteed.
Ordinarily, requests for specific dates cannot be accommodated,
but it doesn't hurt to ask.

9. Where can I find today's Top Ten List?

ANSWER: Check out the CBS Home Page at
(that site has a complete and searchable archive of CBS
Top Tens).

8. What happened to the TOPTEN mailing list?

ANSWER: CBS Television owns it now, but as yet has not revived
it. For now, go to their Web page.

7. Why does Dave cackle and then give me that weird look when he's
sitting at his desk?

ANSWER: He wants you to switch off your t.v. and go to bed.

6. Can I send e-mail to Dave?

ANSWER: Yes! is the official mailbox
of LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN and is manned by the show's
research department. Your mail will be instantly
acknowledged by a mailbox "robot" at the LATE SHOW and you
may subsequently get a personal response from a staffer --
but don't hold your breath.

5. Remember every night in the early months of _Late Show_ when
Dave would get a standing ovation? Whatever happened to that?

ANSWER: It's been replaced by the hourlong, uninterrupted
sitting ovation.

4. Hey! Last night I was watching Jay Leno's show and he did a
comedy bit that was exactly like one Dave had done on *his*

ANSWER: We're not counting the monologue, twit.

3. We're coming to New York next week! Any chance we can get
standby tickets for the show?

ANSWER: Sure. See below.

2. Why doesn't Dave have guest hosts on his show, like Johnny
Carson used to have on The Tonight Show?

ANSWER: Look where it got Carson.

And the Number One Question Asked on the A. F. of L. Newsgroup:

1. Who do I need to sleep with to use the Letterman archive at

ANSWER: Yeah, I know, it's a pain trying to get in. There's
not much I can do about this, now that the archive is sitting
at about 35 megabytes. MCSNet generously donated that space
in late 1993 and since then has seen its customer base increase
30-fold. They have been raising the number of simultaneous FTP
sessions allowed, but obviously not enough to meet demand. Be
persistent and keep logging in. If you are an Internet Service
Provider and are willing to make a long-term commitment to house
a mirror of the Letterman archive, by all means drop me a line.

* * *

Questions People Ask About David Michael Letterman.

* * *

Was Dave born to an actual American family?

On April 12, 1947, to Joe and Dorothy Letterman. Dave's dad
was a florist and had what Dave calls a "big personality. He
was loud and liked to goof off and say funny things and do things
to provoke you and get under your skin." By contrast, Dave's
mom, as we have all witnessed, "is the least demonstrative person
in the world." When Joe died over 20 years ago, Dave said it was
"the worst time in my life." Dave's mom was church secretary
for many years at Second Presbyterian Church in Broad Ripple,
Indiana, now part of Indianapolis, which is where the
Lettermans (including Dave's two sisters) grew up. She is now
remarried and living quietly in Indy, except when she's out
promoting her new cookbook.


I understand that during his growing-up years, Dave was pretty much,
and I'm quoting now, a "dork."

Over 30 years ago, Dave worked during high school in the
Atlas Super Market, an Indianapolis institution even
then. Caroline Latham's book "The David Letterman
Story" shows Dave standing next to an enormous side of
beef. It is fair to say that in the photo Dave looked
(quoting an poster) "like a
16-year-old serial killer." In his own defense, Dave
has said, "I think there's something wrong if high
school is the greatest experience of your life."


Where did Dave attend college?

Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He was a TV/Radio
major with a minor in speech, and pledged Sigma Chi. Some of
his frat brothers described Dave as very funny and self-confident.
Dave has been generous with donations to the university and was
largely responsible for the new Sigma Chi building at Ball State.
In 1985 he endowed the David Letterman Scholarship there, an
annual gift to a telecommunications major based solely on his
or her creativity, *not* grades.


Is Dave married?

Dave was married to his college sweetheart Michelle Cook, but
they divorced in 1977. Then from 1978 to 1988 he was involved
with comedienne Merrill Markoe were engaged, who met him on
the standup circuit and went on to become Late Night's first
(and, many would agree, best) head writer. But that fizzled --
Merrill told the New York Observer (12/11/95) that her last
words to Dave were, "Why don't you go fuck yourself" -- and she
took off for California and a writing career. Dave is presently
in a relationship with former Late Night staffer Regina Lasko,
who is also active in Dave's professional life and is
reportedly pushing for marriage (see Dave's interview with
Entertainment Weekly, 12/4/95).


I heard that Dave used to be a weatherman in Indianapolis.

From 1969 to 1974, as an intern and later a full-timer,
Dave worked for his hometown Channel 13 as booth
announcer, host of a Saturday morning kids' show and of
the late-late movie, and yes, as weatherman. Dave once
reported that the city was being pelted with hail "the
size of canned hams" and he also enthusiastically
congratulated a tropical storm when it was upgraded to
hurricane status. Another gem: "Let's take a look at
the cloud-cover photograph made earlier of the United
States today and I think you'll see that once again
we've fallen to the prey of political dirty dealings.
And right now you can see what I'm talking about: the
higher-ups have removed the border between Indiana and
Ohio, making it one giant state! Personally, I'm
against it."

Didn't he have a radio show, too?

For about a year following his t.v. job. It was at WNTS,
back when it was all-talk. This gig did not go so well
for him. "I was miscast because you have to have somebody
who is fairly knowledgeable, fairly glib, possessing a
natural interest in a number of topics," he later told an
interviewer. "That certainly is not me. I don't care
about politics. ... The Nixon-Watergate nonsense was the
perfect example of something about which I knew nothing
and couldn't have cared less." So Dave got bored and
started making stuff up. According to Caroline Latham, he
once told listeners that their beloved 230-foot-tall Soldiers
and Sailors Monument "had been sold to the island of Guam,
whose government planned to paint it green in honor of
their national vegetable, the asparagus." >>> It has been
rumored that Dave got fired for his on-air remarks at
Channel 13 or WNTS. In fact, the only place he ever got
yanked from was Ball State's pathetic 10-watt all-classical
campus radio station.


What else can you tell me about Dave's career in show bidness?

When Dave arrived in Hollywood in 1975 he found work as
a comedy writer for Jimmie Walker and Paul Lynde. In
the summer of '76 he starred in the CBS four-week
vehicle for the Starland Vocal Band (they supplied the
songs, he supplied the laughs), and in 1978 was a player
on Mary Tyler Moore's short-lived variety show, also on
CBS. Because of his friendship with game-show legend
Allen Ludden, Dave landed a guest-star spot on Dick
Clark's _$10,000 Pyramid_ and Ludden's own _Liars' Club_
as a "guest celebrity." (Incidentally, he was brilliant
on the _Pyramid_: he never had to guess the answer more
than once. But Dick Clark plainly didn't care for
Dave's efforts to insert snide comments into the
fleeting moments given over to actual banter.)

In his career, Dave has also played a Werner
Erhard-alike in an episode of _Mork and Mindy,_ a sleazy
Hollywood agent-type in a _Laverne & Shirley_ episode
(though I haven't seen that one), made several
appearances in _Open All Night_ (a t.v. show which
lasted the season between the morning and late-night
shows), and appeared in a murder mystery called _Fast
Friends_ that starred Dick Shawn as a talk show host who
drops dead and is replaced by Dave (later Shawn would
actually keel over on stage and expire, and it would be
a couple of minutes before the crowd realized he wasn't

More recently, Dave has made small appearances in _The
Building,_ _The Larry Sanders Show_ (playing himself,
he leaked to Larry that the 12:35 show on CBS would be
given to Tom Snyder, which in fact turned out to be
true), and the Adam Resnick-Chris Elliott feature film
_Cabin Boy_ (1994). He has also co-produced two
sitcoms, both for CBS, both busts, both with Bonnie
Hunt: _The Building_ and _The Bonnie Hunt Show._


I wonder why Dave doesn't do more movies?

In fact, Dave was under contract to Touchstone Pictures,
but has since extricated himself from it. What happened
was Michael Eisner, the chairman of Walt Disney Company,
signed Letterman to *not* do movies for other companies.
"Eisner's kid had gotten ol' Dad to wrangle some tickets
when Dave was in L.A.," recalls Bill Jones, who saw Eisner
interviewed by Bob Costas on _Later._ "Eisner ... got
excited when he got there and saw the huge lines and
movie-premiere atmosphere. He's thinking, this guy is like
a movie star/rock star already. What could we do if we
actually put him in the movies? Delighted to find the next
day that Dave had no movie obligations, they contacted
Dave's people. They were shocked to find that our TV Pal
wanted no part of any movie deal. He was pretty sure he
would suck, and told them so many times. ... Dave suggested
they go look at his screen test for _Airplane!_ in the role
eventually played by Robert Hays. After the contract was
signed, they finally did, and Eisner said he turned white
as a ghost -- Dave really was that bad." Eventually, as
Bill Carter reports, the contract was terminated and Disney's
money more or less cheerfully refunded.

Dave named his movie production company Cardboard Shoe.
Before that, he had a production company for his NBC morning
show (1980) called Space Age Meat, and his 1981 HBO special
"Looking for Fun" was a Recreational Poultry production.
Dave owns the rights to his current program on CBS, his
morning show and HBO special, but not to _Late Night._


What the hell is this thing Dave's got for Tom Snyder?

Dave was a big _Tomorrow_ fan and has claimed to have
seen between 80 and 85 percent of the shows that ever
aired (Merrill Markoe, his live-in at the time, says
Dave "revered" Tom). So although strictly speaking he
is the man who displaced Snyder in 1982 -- but NBC
accelerated Tom's demise by pairing him with Rona
Barrett and turning the pleasant chatfest into the
obnoxious _Tomorrow: Coast to Coast_ -- Letterman has
always said publicly that Snyder ought to be on network
television again. Sure enough, in August of '94 Dave
made good on his word, but as poster
Bill Jones pointed out, it's not the first time: "Much
of the first ten Carson years of the Tonight Show were
erased [1962-72, the New York years]. They were going
to do same thing to the Tomorrow tapes after Snyder was
gone, but they were stopped by -- David Letterman! One
of the reasons that ... Tom described Dave as a true
friend." (Those tapes are now safely stored at the
Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.)


I've heard it said that had Dave gotten the _Tonight_ gig, he would've
abandoned the _Late Night_ format entirely -- not just honed its rough
edges like he did on CBS -- and done a show very much like Carson's.

The writer and infomaven Mark Evanier, who knows Leno,
Letterman and many of the people who work for them,
says, "One of Dave's current writers even told me he was
glad D.L. didn't get the gig because he thinks Dave
would have dumped most of the staff, moved to Burbank
and done something that more resembled a variety show."
Yet no one will dispute that Dave *has* made a
significant change by switching networks and venues. He
may not do a variety show but whatever that is he's
doing, it ain't the old _Late Night._ Merv Griffin once
said that all talk show hosts must freshen up their
format every few years. He said he did it by switching
networks and time slots, while Johnny Carson did it by
firing his staff. If those are the primary choices,
then it seems Dave has chosen to take the Merv road.


I have wondered if Dave was a recovering alcoholic. He had John
Larroquette on the show one night, who is recovering, and talked about
the days when he used to drink heavily.

Unfortunately, Dave is just the kind of enigmatical,
jealously guarded private person that the media looove to
speculate about. He is not forthcoming at all about his
personal life in this or any other department. For the
record, Dave used to drink a lot but gave it up not long
into his _Late Night_ run. And yes, whenever you see him
tippling from a bottle of colored liquid purporting to be
cooking sherry during the culinary segments of the program,
you can be rest assured it's not alcohol. The bottle
switch is the oldest trick in the book.


Who was the woman who kept breaking into Dave's Connecticut home claiming
to be "Mrs. Letterman"?

Margaret Ray. And she still breaks in from time to time,
according to Dave in his January 1994 _Playboy_ interview.
He says he has tried to get her some psychiatric help,
because the state has let her case "fall through the cracks."

* * *

Questions People Ask About _Late Show with David Letterman_
(CBS, August 30, 1993- )

* * *

Wait! I forgot to order tickets and I'm going to be in New York. Are
there standby tix available?

You may get standby tickets for the show each tape day at
the box office at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Standbys are
distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, and are
limited to one per person. Standbys do not guarantee
admission. _You must be 16 or older to pick up a
standby ticket and attend a taping._ And the consensus
among those who've tried is that you had better get
there early in the morning to have a shot at standby

The actual giveaway of spare seats occurs at 12 noon.
CBS pages now number the standby tickets as they give
them out. That way, recipients can enjoy the afternoon
in beautiful Midtown knowing that when they return, they
will reassemble in the same place in line they had


I've got tickets to the Big Show! When should I show up to get good
seats? Any other tips?

The tapings start at 5:30 p.m. Seating is on a first-come-
first-served basis, and tickets are numbered when you
arrive. Try coming at about 1 p.m. (Some attendees say
come a little later, like about 2:30 or 3, to avoid getting
seated right up front, where one's view can be obstructed
by all the equipment.) After your ticket is numbered you'll
be told to return at 3:55 p.m. At that time ticket holders
line up by their numbers and are eventually escorted inside
the building.

Some former audience members endorse *not* getting advance
tix but waiting in line for standbys instead, the advantages
being you have a lot more control over what day(s) you see
the show (provided the line isn't too long), and you'll
probably get balcony seats, which feature unobstructed
views. Standbys discussed above. But if you want any
chance of getting on camera, swapping gifts for t-shirts,
or participating in the fabulous prize giveaways, you need
to show up early and get a front-row seat.

The Ed Sullivan Theater typically is chilled to between 48
and 52 degrees Fahrenheit.


How are the nightly Top Tens put together?

Jon Beckerman, who is now the show's supervising producer and
de facto head writer, says: "Every day each (or almost each)
writer turns in a few topics. Rob Burnett [the show's
executive producer] pitches a few to Dave, who picks
one. At about 2:30 or 3:00 we get the topic for the night's
list, and everyone turns in a page of jokes (anywhere from,
say, 5 to 20) by 3:45. [The head writer] (selectively)
pitches jokes to Dave and composes the list from jokes that
Dave approves. As you can see, it's pretty last-minute."


When exactly did Dave start referring to himself as "Regis Philbin"?

The earliest reported sighting I've made of Dave naming his
alter ego was the 1989 broadcast from the Chicago Theatre,
when Penn Jillette asked Dave to write his name on a playing
card as part of a magic trick. There's really nothing more to
this than to Dave paying respect to his favorite broadcasters,
a pantheon that includes Philbin, Toms Brokaw and Snyder, and
Late Night's all-time most frequent guest, Marv Albert.


Well, finally Dave is back to reading multiple letters during the "viewer
mail" bit. Why'd it take so long?

Early in the show's CBS run, head writer Rob Burnett told
a reporter that this was one of many "improvements" that
needed to be made to the show to make it feel more fast-paced
than the NBC version, since it was the consensus of Dave's
staff that the earlier airtime for _Late Show_ required a
tighter, peppier format than the old _Late Night._ There
was probably also a practical consideration in that the
writers no longer had Monday off, like they did at NBC, to
plan multiple elaborate gags for the rest of the week,
including viewer mail bits. My guess is that no one was
very happy with wagering the whole Letters segment on a
single gag and that, despite the extra work involved, they
figured out a way to shoehorn more letters in. >>> By the
way, if that "Letters, We Get Letters" theme that bookends
the segment sounds familiar, you probably remember watching
Perry Como on t.v. back in the 1950s (e.g., Kraft Music
Hall). That was *his* viewer-mail theme.


The audience laughter sounds sort of canned.

First of all, the theater is heavily miked. Second, the
show clearly has more energy than the old _Late Night_
did. Third, audiences seem to be falling out of their
seats at even the lamest monologue jokes, in stark
contrast to the audience across America sitting in stony
silence before their sets. It's not fake laughter and
applause you hear, but the excessive noises of an
overhyped and giddy studio audience, and as far as my
ear is concerned there's little difference between the


Has anyone else noticed that the show seems to be running a little long?

Perfectly normal. The show runs from 11:35:00 pm till 12:36:30
pm Eastern time.

These days the show seems to have some pretty noticeable edits made to
it on a regular basis. I don't remember the program being edited for
time quite so much back at NBC.

Our pal Mr. Donz5 provides this eyewitness account: "The
first show I was lucky enough to attend was in 1984. There
was a recurring shtick before each segment (or after, I
forget which) where a model sang some insipid song. But
the show ran too long, and every bit with the singer in it
was taken out when it broadcast that night. Shows are
routinely edited for that very reason: it went on too long."

That, however, is a minor instance. There have been numerous
reports in recent months of show tapings that have gone
deeply into overtime -- once, nearly an hour -- owing to
Letterman's increasing tendency to stop the taping and re-
shoot pieces he felt didn't go properly. This represents a
total departure from the days of Carson, when Johnny felt
so strongly about keeping the broadcast going that, if he
were still changing costumes after a bit and the time for
the commercial break had ended, Ed McMahon would sit in
Johnny's desk and move the show along.


Does the Microphone on Dave's Desk actually work, or is it just a prop?
(Thanks Mark Weber)

Yes, the microphone (an old RCA DX 77) does work, but is
usually reserved for special occasions, such as when Dave
is "playing along with the band" by hitting it with a
pencil. The crew at NBC gave him the mic when he left.
Dave's primary mic is the wireless "tie-clip" variety.
There was a report that Dave's mike was stolen off his
desk during the renovation of the Ed Sullivan Theater in
the spring of 1996, but I can tell no difference in the


What time do they tape the show?

From 5:30 to 6:30 pm, Eastern time. Says Dave, "Everything I
do is designed to help me do the best job I can between 5:30
and 6:30." The thing is done live, as Dave has always felt the
energy would drain out of the show were everything subject to


Why are there *two* guest chairs?

Siskel and Ebert.


I have a bet with my friend. He says the Top Ten List grew out of
the "Book of Lists" that were so very popular in the late 1970s and
early 1980s. I say it was a spoof on Casey Kasem's _American Top
Ten_ t.v. show. Who's right?

You're both wrong, according to Donz5. "Actually, when
Dave debuted the Top 10 on September 19, 1985, he preceeded
it by mentioning McCall's [magazine's] October, 1985 'Top
10 Sexiest Men' list. It grew from there."


What kind of ratings is the big shoo getting versus Jay et al.?


Aaron Barnhart

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages