By Ken Tucker
Updated February 02, 2012 at 05:34 AM EST

The Late Show

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On Wednesday night’s Late Show With David Letterman, the host celebrated his 30 years in late night with typical asperity, noting that at this point, what’s keeping him going is “Lipitor and vodka.” The greatest talk-show host ever — the sum of what came before him, the invention of his own body of work, the influence he has bequeathed to every host who’s come after him — nodded to his past with a Top Ten recited by longtime staffers heaping abuse upon their employer.

Then he got on with the show.

Dave’s guest was Howard Stern, a frequent guest over the years on one of the few TV shows that understands how to showcase his blasts of hair-ball vulgarity. Stern had doubtless been booked to congratulate Letterman and plug his upcoming debut as a judge on America’s Got Talent.

But Stern insisted on turning the conversation to settling old scores against — who else? — Jay Leno. “I’m not interested in [appearing on] Jay’s show,” said Stern. “I’m still fighting the war… I don’t forgive him. He hid in the closet and took away the [Tonight Show] from you.” Stern pressed the limits of taste in going further, comparing Letterman’s reconnection with Leno (remember the Jay-Dave-Oprah Super Bowl commercial?) to “that singer Rihanna…going back to her abuser.”

Dave admitted, “No, I don’t want you going on [Leno’s] show,” even as he warned Howard that his Talent employer NBC “will pressure you to go on that show.”

“I’m not making up with Jay,” said Stern. “I’m with you,” said Dave. “I didn’t say the war is over.”

Stern expressed eagerness to start his Talent gig: “I sit at home and watch these shows like a mental patient. I watch American Idol, I watch The X Factor. My TIVO thinks I’m a 35-year-old woman.”

“You’re gonna make people cry,” said Letterman of the contestants Stern will pass judgment upon. Stern, ever cagey, said he wasn’t so sure he would, but allowed, “Lord knows I can do it.”

Twitter: @kentucker

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The Late Show

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