Tears, not laughs, with Letterman and Dan Rather

September 18, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

If anyone tuned into The Late Show with David Letterman last night looking for laughs and the familiar wise-guy Letterman persona, they came to the wrong channel.

But, if Letterman is the barometer of late-night humor as many believe he is, viewers got a sense of just how changed our nation has been by terrorist attacks last week as both he and his first guest, CBS anchorman Dan Rather, choked back tears in talking about the death and destruction in New York, where the show is taped.

Rather became most emotional when talking about the rescue efforts of New York's firefighters.

The show opened with no music and no standup monologue -- just Letterman sitting at his desk asking the audience's "patience and indulgence" as he tried to talk his way through his anger and confusion over last week's events.

"But, if we are going to continue doing shows here in New York, then I need to hear myself talk for a few minutes," he said.

"Watching all of this, I wasn't sure I should be doing a television show, because for 20 years we've been in the city making fun of everything, making fun of the city. So, to come to this circumstance, which is so desperately sad, I didn't trust my judgment," he continued.

"But I tell you the reason I am back to work: Mayor Giuliani. He implored us to go back to our lives, to go on living, to try and make New York the kind of city it can be, and it's because of him I'm here tonight.

"If you're like me -- and, God, I hope you're not, but in this one small respect if you're like me and you're watching and you're depressed and angry and confused and full of grief, all you had to do was watch the mayor. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage," Letterman said.

There was a bit of teasing and fun with Letterman's second guest, the ever teasible Regis Philbin. But the world of late night with David Letterman last night was unmistakably changed.

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