David Letterman: Al-Qaeda Terror Target? [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Aug26

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David Letterman: Al-Qaeda Terror Target? [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Al-Qaeda must be desperate, and on the losing end, in the War on Terror. Last week one of their members called for late night talk show host David Letterman’s tongue to be ripped out and silenced.  Wow, really?

Letterman has been hosting his Late Show with David Letterman on CBS since 1993.  I’ve been watching Dave since I was a child and can’t even begin to think of television after 11:30pm on weeknights without him.  Dave had a long a crazy climb to the top, but he did it himself, and it’s like a rags to riches story

Letterman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 12, 1947.  He graduated from Ball State University in 1969 and had no clue what to do.  Letterman had worked as an announcer and newscaster for the campus radio station, but according to online reports, was fired after treating classical music with irreverence.

With no clue what to do, Dave discovered Paul Dixon, host of The Paul Dixon Show, a Cincinnati based talk show that was also shown in Dave’s home town.  He immediately decided that’s what he wanted to do.

Letterman began his official career as a talk show host for WNTA-AM radio and as a weatherman for WLWI-TV (now WTHR, the Indianapolis NBC affiliate.)  He became an instant hit thanks to his outrageous behavior in front of the camera.  He once congratulated a storm for being upgraded to a hurricane, blew up a model of the station, and predicted outrageous temperatures for fake cities.

At the station, he also hosted a late night show, Freeze Dried Movies and Clover Power, a show that aired on Saturday mornings where he interviewed 4-H students about their projects.  In 1971, he also appeared as a pit reporter for ABC’s coverage of the Indianapolis 500.  Auto racing has always been one of his passions. He now owns his own racing team.

After being encouraged by his wife and fraternity brothers, Letterman moved to Los Angeles in 1975, with hopes of becoming a comedy writer.  He started out writing jokes for comedian Jimmie Walker and began performing at The Comedy Store, the starting place for many comic hopefuls.

He landed his first regular job on the low rated Starland Vocal Band Show.  The band was only known for one hit single, “Afternoon Delight”.   The variety show ran for only six weeks, in the summer of 1977 on CBS.

Letterman would then land a role on another variety show, Mary.  It was Mary Tyler Moore’s return to television after the cancellation of her successful show a year earlier.  Again, low ratings caused CBS to pull the plug after only three episodes in the fall on 1978.  The series also featured future stars Swoosie Kurtz and Michael McKeon.

After a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy, Letterman would gain popularity on the game show circuit.  He made appearances of The $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, Password Plus, and Liar’s Club.  He also hosted a pilot for a new game, The Riddlers.  Letterman’s comedy on the show was brilliant, but the game was awful and not picked up.  It did air as a one time special on The Game Show Network.

He also tested for the lead role in the movie Airplane! But, the part of Ted Striker went to Robert Hays.  I love that movie and Hays is brilliant, but what I wouldn’t give to see Dave in that role!  Would he have been as funny piloting over Macho Grande?

Letterman would catch the attention of late night king, Johnny Carson who would have him as a frequent guest and eventually guest host of the long running Tonight Show.

He finally got his shot in summer 1980, when NBC decided to move in a different direction with their daytime programming by canceling popular game shows Hollywood Squares, High Rollers, and Chain Reaction. The late morning time slots were known to be filled with game shows and sit-com reruns for decades.  NBC programming head Fred Silverman wanted something different and gave 90 minutes of weekday airtime to The David Letterman Show.

The David Letterman Show was a 90 minute (cut to one hour after a month and a half) daytime talk show.  Just like he does now, the show featured celebrity guests, musical acts, comedy bits, and even an NBC News update with longtime anchor, Edwin Newman.  Newman would constantly be interrupted during his reports by Letterman or the audience. The distinguished newsman could not have been happy about his new assignment.

The show didn’t work in daytime and was canceled in October.  The daytime audience didn’t care for his, then edgy, comedy.  I’ve had the great pleasure of viewing an episode at the Paley Center for Media (formerly The Museum of Television & Radio) in New York.  It was basically a daytime version of his late night show and could be considered a sneak peak at what was to come.  It was freaking funny.  It didn’t work in 1980, but it sure could work now!

NBC smartly kept Letterman under contract and gave him another shot by taking his comedy to late night, behind his hero Johnny Carson.  Late Night with David Letterman debuted on February 1, 1982, taking over the Tomorrow show’s timeslot, which was hosted by another of his favorites, Tom Snyder.

The show originally ran only Monday through Thursday, but a Friday show was added when Friday Night Videos was canceled in 1987.  Dave’s crazy style and outrageous stunts worked and the show became a fast ratings hit.

As a kid, I would quietly turn on the TV or stay up on Friday nights to catch the show.  I remember being fascinated by his humor and stunts.  I couldn’t wait to see what Dave would do next.  How could you turn away from a guy who would wear a suit of Alka-Seltzers into a tank of water, have elevator races, or even interrupt the live broadcast of WNBC’s Live at Five newscast?  You couldn’t go to sleep until you heard that night’s top ten list!

When Johnny Carson suddenly announced his retirement, Letterman thought he was a shoe-in as the new host of The Tonight Show.  Carson had given Dave his blessing, but NBC decided to go with Jay Leno, who was a frequent guest host and planned to keep Dave on Late Night.

Letterman started talking to other networks and the battle for the 11:35pm time slot became fierce.  When NBC made a weak counter offer, Dave received serious offers from FOX (who promised him 11pm and hoped to erase the bad memories of The Late Show with Joan Rivers) and CBS, who were then airing Crime Time After Prime Time (a block of reruns of their prime time criminal dramas.)  At the time, ABC’s schedule was full with Nightline and made no serious offers.

The Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway.

CBS spent $14 million to renovate the historic Ed Sullivan Theater, located on Broadway in New York City to house the show.  While Letterman brought over many of his signature bits, he had to make some minor changes as NBC owned the rights.  For example, his Top Ten List was re-branded Late Show Top Ten.

Letterman would also bring Tom Snyder to CBS and get him back on the air, following The Late Show, in his old 12:30am time slot. The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder lasted for years until Snyder’s retirement.  The show is currently hosted by comedian Craig Ferguson.

On his CBS show, Letterman would often receive jokes written by Johnny Carson and would do his trademark golf swing after each one.  When Carson died in 2005, the entire monologue that night was made up of Carson’s jokes.  The jokes were held as a closely guarded secret until a few days before Carson’s passing.

In the beginning, Letterman easily beat Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show in the ratings, but Leno began to lead in 1995 and mostly held that until he was replaced as host for his mistake of a broadcast, The Jay Leno Show in 2010.  When Leno returned in 2011 – he regained a slight ratings lead.

Letterman hosted The 67th Annual Academy Awards in 1995 and was quite a disaster.  While most viewers didn’t find his outrageous style too funny, I laughed while watching the live broadcast.  While the ceremony was usually played straight and traditional, Dave warmed up the crowd by introducing Oprah Winfrey to Uma Thurman be repeating over and over “Oprah… Uma… Uma… Oprah!” and even asking if they had met Keeanu [Reeves]?  Anybody remember watching that?

David Letterman interviews Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethisberger.

Dave has been sidelined from his show a few times for medical reasons.  In 2000, he underwent an emergency quintuple bypass and was out for almost two months.  He missed several nights in 2003 after contracting a bad case of the shingles, and finally once in 2007 when sidelined with the stomach flu.  In all cases, he used celebrity guest hosts, which often led to awkward, but funny improvised moments.

In 2007, The Late Show went into repeats for eight weeks as a result of a strike by The Writers’ Guild of America.  His production company, Worldwide Pants, was able to negotiate a special contract that got the writers back to work and was the first show back on the air, despite the strike still being in full swing.  Letterman appeared on these new episodes sporting a beard in support for the union.

When Late Night first started, Dave was more of a party guy and would throw office parties and organize staff softball games.  Upon his move to CBS, he became more reserved and tougher behind the scenes.  He has rewritten shows moments before air and usually reports to work after rehearsals.

I know a few people who have worked there and heard some stories first hand.  I also hear that Dave downs two Hershey bars for a big sugar boost seconds before taping an episode.

Letterman’s high profile status has caused him to often become the target of controversy behind the scenes.

In 1988, he became the target of stalker.  The woman, who suffered from schizophrenia, committed suicide ten years later.

In 2005, police unraveled a plot to kidnap his son Harry for $5 million.

In 2009, he became entangled in an attempted blackmail scheme, when a former CBS News staffer demanded $2 million or he would reveal secret diary notes and emails about Dave’s sexual encounters with female employees.  Letterman admitted he did some wrong and publicly apologized to his wife.

So now in 2011, a small time Al-Qaeda contributor and wannabe jihadist has decided to make Letterman a terrorist target.

The blogger known as Umar al-Basrawi, (likely an alias) posted to an Al-Qaeda website about jokes made over the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and leader Ilyas Kashmiri.

He urged followers to “cut the tongue” of the Late Show host.   He stated that Letterman “put his hand on his neck and demonstrated the way of slaughter.”

He also commented “I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, one of the lowlifes of the Jews, and one of their pigs, mocking one of the leaders of the mujahedeen.”  The website also provides would be assassins with a dated photo of Letterman and describes him as “a sick Jew with defined features.”

Good job on your Google search to get the photo.  Perhaps they should have Googled some more to find that Dave is not a Jew but a Presbyterian.  Whoops.

The FBI has stepped in to analyze the threat.  Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the New York bureau told the Associated Press, “We take every potential very seriously.”

Al-Qaeda has also made threats against the creators of South Park for dressing their prophet Muhammad in a bear suit on their Comedy Central cartoon.

So, is this the new low these terrorists are now stooping to?

The sad fact is, this group of religious zealots truly have a hate of us in the United States and are born into that from childhood.  Al-Qaeda has been responsible for thousands of deaths and has a lot of blood on their hands, yet they see that as perfectly fine.  I’m not turning this into a religious debate because everyone has the right to believe what they want.  But, when you turn to killing another, what god says that can be right?

Maybe their timing is a little late.  Letterman’s contract is up in 2013 and back in February he commented that he would continue for “maybe two years, I think.”

I for one, will be sad when Dave goes off the air.  I tune in every night and was there for his last NBC show and his first CBS one.  My guess is, he will finish his contract and there’s a good chance he’ll ride off into the sunset just like his hero, Johnny Carson did.

THE 411

Who: David Letterman, host of The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS

Airs: Weeknights 11:35pm Eastern

Born: Indianapolis, Indiana


Number of Emmy Awards: 7

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:  I can’t imagine late night television without Dave.  I’ve watched for so long, it’s become routine – even while on vacation.  I can remember watching from my parent’s house when I was a kid and still do after I grew up and moved to New York.

I got to see a taping of his show once and it was a real treat.  It was there for Bill O’Reilly’s return appearance after their famous blow up where Dave told him “I think most of what you say is total crap.”

So, keep tuning in every night.  In my opinion, The Late Show is a much better program than The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But, most people are faithful to one or the other.  Leno is nothing without his pre-written comedy on the teleprompter.  If a joke flops, Dave makes fun right there on the spot.  Sadly, in recent years, Dave has gotten a bit lazier and the more outrageous stunts are gone for more in-studio jokes.

The show is definitely part of our American culture and we should absorb as much of it as we can, just in case he walks out the door in two years.

You can also check out new episodes every night on cbs.com.

And have a good laugh, check out some of these other vintage Letterman clips:

image credits:  Simon Q, Mac(3), anthonylibrarian, goodrob13