David Letterman has been a household name for the 20 years he has been in the late night talk show business. Founder and co-owner of World Wide Pants Incorporated and currently the host of The Late Show with David Letterman, he has risen from the plains of Indiana to be the king of late night.
David Michael Letterman was born, as the second of three children, to Harry and Dorothy Letterman on April 12, 1947 in Indianapolis Indiana. For grade school he went to School 55; for secondary school he attended Broad Ripple High School, during this time he worked at Atlas Supermarket. After graduating high school in 1965, he went to Ball State University where he earned his BA in telecommunications in 1969.
He went on to work at several radio stations in Indiana and then as an anchor and weatherman for what is now WTHR-TV. Rumor has it that Letterman lost this job after congratulating a tropical storm when it obtained hurricane status. Also, for the same channel, he hosted a Saturday morning children's show, Clover Power, and a late-night movie show that he called Freeze-Dried Movies.
In 1975, realizing he needed a larger audience, Letterman moved to Los Angeles. There, he developed a comedy routine and worked at The Comedy Store. He also sold material to sit-coms like Good Times and The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour. In 1976 Dave began making appearances on The Starland Vocal Band and Mary Tyler Moore's variety show, Mary. At most, those appearances may have gained him only minor recognition. His big break came on November 24, 1978 when he made his first of 22 guest-spot appearances on NBC's The Tonight
Show starring Johnny Carson. Not only did he come on for guest-spots but he also became the regular guest host appearing 50 times.
Having recognized his talents, NBC offered Letterman a daytime talk show, The David Letterman Show, which premiered in June of 1980. It proved to be a success winning him his first two Emmys, one for Outstanding Talk Show Host, and the other for Outstanding Writing of a
Talk/Service Show. Its recognition did not attract a daytime audience though and NBC decided that he needed a late show. Late Night with David Letterman premiered on February 1, 1982 at the 12:30 time slot, which followed Carson's Tonight Show. This show was not only critically acclaimed, but also was an audience grabber with celebrity guests, Stupid Human and Pet Tricks, and the ever-popular Top Ten List.
Following Carson's retirement announcement, Letterman publicly expressed his desire for the Tonight Show spot. In 1991 NBC, however, chose Jay Leno, who had taken over the guest hosting of the Tonight Show after Letterman got his own late show. In 1993 Letterman accepted a $14 million
deal offered by CBS, but not before winning the coveted George Foster Peabody Award in 1992.
The Late Show with David Letterman was matched up head to head with the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. From the beginning Letterman became the king of late night and is, arguably, the most popular since Carson. In the talk show field Letterman is often imitated, (relationship between the host and band leader for instance). He has a unique style of making minor stars out of stagehands, and nearby small businesses.
All three of his talk shows combined have been nominated for 71 Emmys, and have won 12. He remains popular and has secured his spot in TV history as both, "That Gap-Toothed-Crack-Up" and as "The Most Powerful Man in Network Broadcasting".