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LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN DEBUTS
Feb. 1, 1982
After bombing disastrously 18 months earlier with his short-lived if critically acclaimed morning show, Letterman finds his rightful place as a creature of late night. His first guests included Bill Murray and Don Herbert, the children's entertainer better known as Mr. Wizard.
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LATE NIGHT NABS FOUR CONSECUTIVE EMMY WINS FOR OUTSTANDING WRITING
These wins were a coup for the show's writing staff, which included future SNL cast member Chris Elliot and Letterman's erstwhile romantic interest, Merrill Markoe. They snagged the first award for a ''custom-made'' episode that allowed the studio audience to choose everything from what music would open the show to what type of furniture Dave and his guests would use.
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STALKER RAVING MAD
With his face appearing nightly in living rooms across the country, it's no wonder that some people feel like they know Letterman personally. Convinced she was in a relationship with the host, stalker Margaret Mary Ray (pictured) broke into his home multiple times and even stole his Porsche. In 1993, Janice Mitchell McPhail drove from Detroit with the intention of marrying him and tried to sneak into the show.
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JOHNNY CARSON RETIRES, JAY LENO GETS THE TONIGHT SHOW
May 22, 1992
After three decades as America's host, and a little more than ten years as Letterman's lead-in, Carson pantomimes his final golf swing. The reins of The Tonight Show would go to Jay Leno, a move that surprised Carson's favorite son Letterman and would lead to acrimony that colored his last year at NBC.
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LETTERMAN MOVES TO CBS
Aug. 30, 1993
Late Night transforms into Late Show as Letterman departs the Peacock for the Eye. The Top Ten List becomes The Late Show Top Ten, Viewer Mail becomes CBS Mailbag, and Paul Shaffer's World's Most Dangerous Band becomes the slightly safer CBS Orchestra. And just like that, the Late Night Wars are born.
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LETTERMAN HOSTS THE 67TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
March 27, 1995
A bomb of epic proportions. Letterman finds that his laid-back irreverence does not complement the glitz and glamor of Hollywood's biggest self-administered slap on the back. The critics wince and ''Uma, Oprah...Oprah, Uma'' enters our lexicon of awkwardness.
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LETTERMAN UNDERGOES EMERGENCY QUINTUPLE BYPASS SURGERY
After missing his first show (with the exception of vacations), Letterman convalesces for six weeks. America breathes a sigh of relief when Uncle Dave returns on Feb. 25 — with his medical team in tow — slightly more gaunt but quippy as ever. ''I had quintuple bypass surgery on my heart. Plus, I got a haircut.''
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LATE SHOW IS THE FIRST TO RETURN TO AIR AFTER 9/11
Sept. 17, 2001
In a rare moment of undiluted earnestness, Letterman delivers a shell-shocked, emotional monologue that sets the standard for subsequent returning hosts. About the city that had been his show's home for nearly 20 years, he said: ''If you didn't believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now, New York City is absolutely the greatest city in the world.'' Four days later, Dave would welcome Mayor Rudy Guiliani as a guest.
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LETTERMAN IS COURTED BY ABC
ABC causes a kerfuffle when it's leaked that network suits are contemplating dropping Ted Koppel's Nightline in favor of snatching Letterman away from CBS. Not only do they alienate Koppel and the entirety of broadcast journalism, but, in the end, Letterman decides to stay put. It would be ABC's worst decision until Cavemen.
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HARRY LETTERMAN IS BORN
Nov. 3, 2003
At age 56, David Letterman becomes a father. Named after his paternal grandfather, little Harry ushers in a slightly less acerbic side of the Late Show host, as well as a new argosy of baby jokes, including the Top Ten list, ''Reasons I'm Excited to Be a Father.'' No. 1? ''There is now tangible evidence that I have had sex.''
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THE KIDNAPPING PLOT
Kelly Frank, a painter who worked on Letterman's Montana home, conspired to kidnap Letterman's young son and his nanny and ransom them for $5 million. Thankfully, the authorities foiled Frank's plot and he was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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THE OPRAH FEUD ENDS
Dec. 2, 2005
The Queen of Daytime and the King of Late Night kiss and make up when Oprah Winfrey appears on the Late Show for the first time in 16 years. The feud arose from Oprah's impression that Letterman was subtly mocking her during a 1989 interview, but the hatchet was effectively buried, and two years after the reunion they appeared together on both The Oprah Winfrey Show and in a popular Super Bowl promo for CBS.
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LATE SHOW RETURNS AFTER WRITERS' STRIKE
Jan. 2, 2008
His face framed by a beard of solidarity, Letterman is the first to return from an eight-week hiatus brought on by the writers' strike, after his company, Worldwide Pants, strikes a special deal with the WGA. The beard is shaved off on the air five days later.
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March 19, 2009
At the Teton County Courthouse in Choteau, Montana, Letterman finally gets hitched to his girlfriend of 23 years, Regina Lasko. He discussed the momentous end of his bachelorhood on the show, admitting, ''I secretly felt that men who were married admired me. Like I was the last of the real gunslingers.''
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June 8, 2009
After a few jokes in questionable taste, Letterman finds himself embroiled in controversy with Alaska's then-governor Sarah Palin. He quickly apologizes, albeit glibly, for the cracks, which painted Palin's daughter as promiscuous. The former VP candidate accuses him of referring to her 14-year old; Letterman insists he meant the older Bristol — in the end, no one would come out looking good.
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Oct. 1, 2009
Seemingly out of nowhere, Letterman informs the audience that he wants to relate ''a little story,'' and then proceeds to detail an alleged $2 million blackmail attempt by CBS producer Joe Halderman. He caps it with the admission that he did, indeed, have amorous relations with women under his employ. The uncomfortable and unsure studio audience makes the moment extra surreal with moments of laughter.
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THE JIHADIST DEATH THREAT
Aug. 16, 2011
After Letterman made a joke about Osama bin Laden, a U.S. company that monitors Islamic extremist sites announced that a message had appeared on Al Qaeda-frequented site Shumukh-al-Islam urging Muslims to ''cut [Letterman's] tongue'' and begging Allah to ''grant the sincere monotheists his neck.'' The next night, Letterman took the threat in typical stride, telling his audience, ''Tonight, you people are more, to me, honestly, than an audience — you're more like a human shield.'' —Lanford Beard
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IF ROSIE AIN'T HAPPY...
Dec. 7, 2011
Yet another joke got Letterman in trouble when he took a swipe at fellow talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell and her relationship with fiancée Michelle Rounds. The Rosie Show host wasted no time taking to her stage to snark about Letterman's ''loving, supportive comments'' by pointing out Letterman's many infidelities and presenting her own Top 5 List of reasons why she'd never appear on the Late Show again. —Lanford Beard
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LATE SHOW SEXISM IS NO LAUGHING MATTER
Jan. 13, 2012
Letterman's long-time comedy booker and warm-up act Eddie Brill found himself in a heap of trouble after he made comments in a New York Times profile questioning female comedians' authenticity and implying they had to ''act like men'' to be funny. Brill made a swift apology, but unfortunately it too reeked of sexism. Less than a week later, Letterman made the tough decision to drop Brill after nearly 15 years as colleagues. —Lanford Beard
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DAVID LETTERMAN CELEBRATES 30 YEARS AS A LATE-NIGHT HOST
Feb. 1, 2012
Letterman would extend his contract with CBS through 2014, making him the longest running late-night TV host in history. —Lanford Beard