How David Letterman Changed Conan O'Brien's Career

Conan O'Brien The Late Show with David Letterman Farewell Tribute

When it was announced that David Letterman would be stepping down as the host of The Late Show, long-time fans of the comedian were sad to see him go. Earlier this week, Letterman's final night - after 33 years and 6,024 episodes - featured many of the host's friends and was was met with high ratings.

Meanwhile, fellow hosts like Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have paid tribute to the late night icon on their own shows. However, Conan O'Brien, host of Conan on TBS, took his farewell tribute a step farther by opening his show (which conflicted with Letterman's finale) telling viewers how The Late Show host had saved his career and urging them to change the channel - though not before setting the DVR.

On the May 20th episode of Conan, O'Brien's opening monologue (above) was dedicated to David Letterman and how he saved the younger comedian's career. As the story goes, O'Brien filled in as the host of Letterman's show for a short period in 1993, but failed to impress critics or keep up good ratings.

As a result, many thought O'Brien's own late night show would (and should) be cancelled, but Letterman reached out and requested to be a guest. According to O'Brien, that one appearance completely changed the young late night show host's career.

Conan O'Brien The Late Show with David Letterman Farewell Tribute

However, those weren't the only kind words O'Brien had for Letterman's rise to late night and comedic fame. Earlier this month, O'Brien penned an essay about the "late-night pioneer" (which he referenced in his monologue) that appears on EW. In the piece, O'Brien describes why Letterman was a revolution on television and how he has impacted not just late night TV, but all of comedy.

Read an excerpt from the essay:

"Dave’s show was that rare phenomenon: a big, fat show business hit that seemingly despised show business. Dave didn’t belong, and he had no interest in belonging. He amused himself, skewered clueless celebrity guests, and did strange, ironic comedic bits that no one had seen on television before. Everything about that show was surreal and off-kilter. Where late night television had once provided comfort, this man reveled in awkwardness…

…So let’s keep it simple: Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave’s seismic impact on comedy. Every day, I read that a new comic has ‘changed the game,’ and admittedly there is an absurd abundance of talent and creativity out there right now. But in today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution—and I believe his innovations are up there with the light bulb and the Twix bar. Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift."

As O'Brien points out, both comedy and late night television are vastly different to how they were in the early '80s when Letterman got his start, but The Late Show with David Letterman has been a mainstay through it all. Although some may argue that late night television has continued to evolve past Letterman's contributions, it's difficult to deny his impact on the medium.

As fans of Letterman (O'Brien included among them) can attest, many late night hosts and comedians either owe their success to the icon or were inspired by him. This was evidenced in the weeks leading up to Letterman's final show, which saw an outpouring of support for the comedian's final run of episodes.

On Twitter specifically, fans of The Late Show with David Letterman congregated and shared their own experiences through the hashtag #ThanksDave. In response, the official Twitter account for the show posted a final thank you from the host as well as photos from his last episode. Additionally, the show's YouTube posted the highlight reel of Letterman's tenure as host.

Check out the tweets, photos, and video:

Thank you and goodnight -David Letterman #ThanksDave

— Letterman (@Letterman) May 21, 2015


— Letterman (@Letterman) May 21, 2015


— Letterman (@Letterman) May 21, 2015

At this point, it's difficult to say what sort of impact - if any - Stephen Colbert's time as host of The Late Show will have on the legacy of the series, but he certainly won't have quite the same influence as Letterman did on late night television.

What did you think of David Letterman's last episode of The Late Show? Are you excited for Stephen Colbert to take over the series? Let us know in the comments!


The Late Show returns with new host Stephen Colbert on CBS in Fall 2015.

Source: Conan, EW, Twitter 1, 2, 3, Youtube

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