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Likley Stories - The Last Days of Letterman: The Final 6 Weeks

I really went down rabbit holes whenever the author Scott Ryan quoted someone talking about the musical guests that David Letterman had on his show during those last six weeks. There were great musical performances during the entire 22-year run of the show, but Letterman, who truly appreciated good music, and his staff booked some particularly outstanding musicians to wrap up the show.

There was Tracy Chapman, doing an acoustic version of Stand by Me. Norah Jones doing a slowed-down rendition of her hit Don’t Know Why, which she had debuted on Letterman’s show 13 years earlier. And John Mayer performing the long – like nearly 10 minutes long – version of American Pie. And then there was the story about the camera work that went on during Mayer’s performance, never-before-used angles shot from behind Mayer that showed him and the audience and the monitors reflecting his performance. I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes stories like that.

And, of course, I spent time watching numerous Top 10 lists on YouTube as well.

The Last Days of Letterman is written as an oral history of the final six weeks of The Late Show with David Letterman, which ran on CBS from August 30, 1993, until May 20, 2015, for 4,214 episodes. This book details the final 28 of those episodes.

Though he didn’t talk to Letterman himself, Ryan interviewed more than 20 people who worked on the show, including some who were closest to Dave. He talked to folks like Barbara Gaines, who was the show’s longtime executive producer. He also talked to other producers, and eight writers who worked on the show over the years. Many of them had never been interviewed about their experiences during their time at The Late Show.

Their insight, the behind-the-scenes workings, is what I enjoyed most about this book. They talked about how Letterman had announced his retirement a full year in advance of his last show, and how many celebrities tried to get in one last appearance on The Late Show, especially during those final six weeks. They detailed what it was like backstage, with heavy security in place, when Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were on the show.

Some of my favorite stories were told by Rupert Jee, the owner of Hello Deli, who became a celebrity when The Late Show moved into the Ed Sullivan Theater, just down the street.

The Last Days of Letterman: The Final 6 Week is the second book by Scott Ryan. He also wrote an oral history of the show thirtysomething. Bill Scheft, who wrote for Letterman for 24 years, wrote an entertaining and informative introduction to the book.

Late in the book, Janice Penino, who was vice president of human resources for Worldwide Pants, Letterman’s production company, is quoted as saying, “Who is gonna read this book? Who is gonna care what we did in the last six weeks?”

Well, that’s me. Me and others of a certain age who watched Letterman for years and have now given up on the late-night talk show genre, since it will never be this great again.