Look Who's Talking: Letterman And Stern Are Back Again

David Letterman and Howard Stern are suddenly center stage again, leading one to marvel at their persistence.

Stern is 65 and Letterman 72. Stern has a new book out with the cheeky title Howard Stern Comes Again. This handsomely designed hardcover book contains transcriptions of celebrity interviews he conducted on his radio shows -- interviews he handpicked for the book.

He also wrote an introduction to the book explaining how it came to be. And he wrote introductory material for each interview. The book has been out since May 14 and as of this past weekend, could be found topping every bestseller list that could seemingly be found in a Google search.

Stern has also been visible doing interviews in support of the book's release. One of the storylines is a cancer scare he experienced and writes about in the book's introduction. FYI, he did not have cancer, but he might have had it. In May 2017, he underwent surgery to have a cyst removed from a kidney that turned out to be benign. These things are scary.



Meanwhile, Letterman is back with a second season of his five-episode interview series on Netflix called “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.” Interestingly, at least one of the guests on this season’s list -- Lewis Hamilton, a race car driver -- did need an introduction, or at least to me. I had to look him up on Google.

Letterman has also been doing some interviews in support of his Netflix show, including an interview with Willie Geist on NBC’s “Sunday Today” show earlier this month. (The above photo of Letterman is from the NBC News interview. The Stern photo is from a recent appearance on “The View” courtesy of ABC.)

Talk about persistence -- Letterman continues to persist in not shaving. Known more for his talent as a broadcaster than a poet, he nevertheless has taken on a Walt Whitman-ish air with his now-famous beard.

In my own consciousness and career, the career paths of Stern and Letterman run more or less in parallel, while also intersecting from time to time. This would occur when Stern would appear as a guest on Letterman's “Late Show” on CBS, and the two would have a lively conversation about late-night television. Stern would invariably complain about Jay Leno, a subject Letterman was none too eager to discuss -- which is what made these appearances so funny and entertaining.

“I follow this like it’s the Torah!” Stern declared in one such appearance in 2011 as Letterman seemed to resist discussing the subject, but to no avail. “I study it, I love it!” Stern said of what we used to call the “late-night wars.”

Remember them? The term first came into wide use in 1992, the year Johnny Carson retired and then Letterman and Jay Leno fought over “The Tonight Show” job. Letterman went to CBS to launch a new show in competition with “Tonight” and the late-night “wars” were born.

It was a different world then, and there was a lot more at stake in terms of viewership and money. Are the many late-night shows on TV today engaged in such a “war” for viewers and revenue? It does not seem so.

Everything seems so much smaller today, doesn't it? Letterman and Leno had a real rivalry. Today, the late-night hosts pretend to like each other. That's no fun at all.

In my own work, Howard Stern's name first appears in 1986. Letterman’s in 1988. I got a lot of mileage out of both, for which I thank them. Much of the coverage of Stern had to do with the ribald (to say the least) content of his radio shows and occasional TV shows. I would rail against them in print and Stern would rail against me on his show. We never became personally acquainted.

In the ’90s, the Letterman stories and columns had to do chiefly with his rivalry with Leno and “The Tonight Show.” But as the years went by, and Leno’s dominance in the time period became solidified through most of his run as “Tonight Show” host, the Letterman stories that popped up had to do more with the antics of a guest than Dave himself. Although I interviewed him once on the phone long ago, I never knew Letterman either.

Since Leno and Letterman left late night, I have rarely found any of the current shows and their hosts and guests worth writing about. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with them. It is just that none of them seem to make much of an impact anymore.

Oh, well. What do we learn the older we get? That the only constant in life, paradoxically, is change. And yet, David Letterman and Howard Stern are still around. They are a pair of “constants” themselves -- older certainly, changed probably and wiser hopefully.

1 comment about "Look Who's Talking: Letterman And Stern Are Back Again".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, May 29, 2019 at 5:14 p.m.

    Adam, I thought you were kidding about Lewis Hamilton, then I realised you weren't.

    He's a five time Formula 1 World Champion and has won 77 Grand Prix - second only to Michael Schumacher - in a sport with a global audience of 1.3b TV viewers.

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