Letterman and the Future of Media Consumption

The past month has seen an outpouring of tributes and praise for the just-retired “Late Show” host David Letterman. I have been linking to some of the more informative (and amusing) discussions in the morning reads (see this and this). None have really captured the context I was looking for: what does this tell us about the future of media consumption in the changing technology, media and social landscape?

The arc of Letterman’s career has run parallel to those changes. Many of the companies that were central to the changes either were, are or will be in your investment portfolio. Isn’t competition grand?

I didn’t watch much TV as a kid (parental restrictions), but as soon as I was on my own, I went wild. I got one of those new fangled VCRs once I could afford one, and the first show I began taping regularly was “Late Night With David Letterman.” I never found Johnny Carson, whose show aired before Letterman’s, especially funny; he was too bland. Letterman had edge, he was unpredictable.

At the time, most of us had no idea what drove Letterman’s antics. The 12:30 a.m. time slot was owned by Carson’s production company, and he wanted as little overlap between the “Tonight Show” and “Late Night” as possible. The strictures included no sidekick like Ed McMahon, no big band like Doc Severinsen’s. Only four jokes were allowed in the monologue. Carson’s old school guests and routines were also off limits — as if anyone under 60 wanted to book Zsa Zsa Gabor or steal a tired  shtick like “Carnac the Magnificent.”

Letterman and crew were forced to innovate. Thus, we were givenStupid Pet Tricks, Top 10 lists and all of the inventive remote segments — Letterman working the drive-through window at a Taco Bell, Letterman driving a rented convertible through a car wash with the top down and so on. For someone discovering television beyond “MASH” reruns, it was glorious. The show became a cult favorite, especially with the college and stoner crowd.

 

Continues here: How Media Is Consumed After Letterman

 

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