The Early Days of The Late Show


You likely know the backstory by now. Johnny Carson’s retirement from The Tonight Show in 1992 set off a now-legendary tussle for the hosting chair of that legendary franchise. When Jay Leno won the role, longtime NBC host David Letterman took his act over to CBS to create The Late Show with David Letterman.

The first episode of that show premiered 20 years ago today, with Dave welcoming Bill Murray (who spraypainted “DAVE” across the front of Letterman’s desk), Billy Joel, and a few surprise walk-on guests.

Here is the monologue from that first show, where Letterman jokes about the “intellectual property” of his former network, and even drops a “Buttafuoco”:

Over the years Letterman has had a tendency to pluck everyday residents and business people from the neighborhood around the show’s home at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater and turn them into recurring show characters. Here are a couple examples from the early years.

Rupert at the Hello Deli
The local restaurateur made his first appearance a few weeks after The Late Show’s premiere, and continues to be a recurring character on the show.

Sirajul & Mujibur
After these two souvenir shop employees became fan favorites, Letterman began sending them out across the country on various missions. Sadly, their shop, K&L’s Rock America, went out of business in 2009.

Calvert DeForest
NBC intellectual property restrictions prevented Letterman from bringing one of his most popular characters with him to CBS. So instead, The Late Show just changed the name of the character, Larry “Bud” Melman, to the actor’s real name, Calvert DeForest. Other than that, the character stayed the same. After DeForest passed away in 1997, Letterman paid tribute and showed some classic clips of him in action.

Sorry for any image quality issues with these videos. It was, after all, the early '90s.