David Letterman still thinks Jay Leno is a “weasel,” but, says Dave, since almost everyone in show business acts like a weasel once in a while, Dave’s willing to let bygones be bygones.
The occasion was Dave’s 30th anniversary in late-night — a milestone dating back to the premiere of “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC on Feb. 1, 1992. Dave’s been marking the anniversary this week by bringing back some stalwart guests, including Stern and, earlier in the week, Bill Murray.
Our favorite part of the Stern interview was the conversation Howard had with Dave about Jay (who Stern claims to despise). Stern insisted that, no matter how much NBC execs pressure him, he will not agree to appear on Leno’s “Tonight Show” to promote the new season of “America’s Got Talent” (for which Stern was recently signed as a judge).
“Jay and I have a long history, and we go way back to when we were kids,” Dave pointed out.
To which Howard replied: “I don’t forgive him! This is the guy who hid in a closet and took away the show from you!” Stern was referring to Leno capturing “The Tonight Show” after Johnny Carson retired back in ’92. Among other tactics Jay employed: He once hid in a closet near an NBC conference room in order to eavesdrop on what NBC execs were saying about him.
“In the world of show business, it’s no surprise that many people are weasels,” Dave said sagely. “I’ve done weaselly things, you’ve done weaselly things . . . Do I really want to spend the rest of my life fighting weasels? Of course I don’t!”
Dave also predicted that Stern would eventually cave and wind up doing the Leno show anyway.
If Dave was thinking back to when he and Jay were young comedians together and close friends, then that might have been because he’s in a reflective mood because of this anniversary.
In another part of his interview with Howard, he showed a picture from Stern’s very first appearance with him 28 years ago on NBC’s “Late Night” on May 21, 1984.
Incidentally, the fact that Dave had only a still photo to show and no videotape from that first appearance indicated something that some other stories lately about Dave’s anniversary seem to have missed — namely, a big reason why Dave isn’t throwing an all-out anniversary party for himself this week. Our theory, based on past history, is this: It’s not so much that he’s a modest guy, but that NBC probably won’t give him permission to air clips from his pre-CBS late-night shows, which NBC controls. This has long been a problem for Letterman when his various anniversaries roll around.
One thing that impressed us about Wednesday’s show: Dave’s “Top Ten,” which had long-time staffers delivering a list of “The Top Ten Things Staffers Would Like to Say to Dave On His 30th Anniversary in Late-Night.” What impressed us was how long some of them have worked with him — some dating their employment with him back to his short-lived NBC morning show in 1980.
Jay Leno has so far remained mum on Letterman’s milestone this week. But ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel took a moment to Tweet a tribute to Dave: “Happy 30th anniversary tonight to the greatest talk show host we’ll ever see.”