The end of an era is rapidly approaching. Late Night with David Letterman will end a run of over 30 years on two networks May 20. And, in homage, fellow late night television host Jimmy Kimmel has said he won’t go on live against his childhood comedic idol’s last hurrah, instead airing a repeat of his program on that night out of respect for the long-time late-night champ.
The move is a bold one given that the episode falls right in the middle of sweeps, when viewer data is captured to determine overall show ratings, making the gesture all the more touching.
“I have too much respect for Dave to do anything that would distract viewers from watching his final show,” he told the New York Times, adding in jokingly that he’d probably be crying all day anyway.
David Letterman has been a staple of the late night circuit for decades, battling through triple bypass surgery, an attempted extortion scandal, and an ongoing feud with rival Jay Leno, who came out ahead in a battle between the two for The Tonight Show in the ’90s. Following Leno’s appointment as successor to Johnny Carson – a post many felt would rightfully go to Letterman – the latter took a job at CBS to compete head-to-head with Leno. The rivalry appeared to continue through the decades.
While Letterman often trailed Leno in ratings, his show was still highly successful, and featured a series of iconic interviews over its 30+ years. Some notable highlights are the infamous Madonna interview while she was (now admittedly) high; Joaquin Phoenix’s bearded silent treatment while he was supposedly converting to a rap artist; Drew Barrymore who table danced and flashed him on air; and a string of interviews with his political nemesis Bill O’Reilly. And those are just to name a few in a storied run.
Thus far, Kimmel is the only late night talk show host to bow out of competing directly with Letterman’s last episode. There is a sort of kinship among the two, not just to do with Kimmel’s admitted love for the comedian and talk show host: both have always been hosts of “that other” show in the prime time late night hour, competing against the juggernaut that is The Tonight Show. Yet both have managed to hold their own. It’s a move that shows great respect for the role model and comedy icon. Kimmel might be all laughs, but there’s clearly a real heart in there. Fallon, over to you.
The very last episode of the Late Show with David Letterman will air on May 20, after which Stephen Colbert will take over the show. Some of the confirmed guests for the finale, according to the CBC, are: Bill Murray (Letterman’s first guest ever), George Clooney, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Downey Jr., Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Don Rickles, Julia Roberts (who’s known to often plant a kiss on Letterman), Ray Romano, Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Short, John Travolta, Michael J. Fox, and Alec Baldwin.