In the weeks leading up to David Letterman’s retirement from the late night circuit, we’ve heard a lot from the actors and musicians who have memorably appeared on his show. We’ve even heard from the late night hosts that idolized the veteran CBS host as young men. However, tonight Conan O’Brien gave us great insight regarding what it meant to take Letterman’s old timeslot on NBC and how Letterman helped to really introduce him to the masses when he was having a tough time. Check out the meaningful video, below.
We don’t have to search too far back in collective memory to remember O’Brien’s rough patch with NBC and subsequent move to TBS in 2010. Prior to that, though, Conan had a pretty good relationship with NBC, who gave him a chance on the late night circuit way back in 1993. He was taking over Letterman’s late night show, and he says he was “totally unprepared” for the gig, breaking out and tanking with the audiences and critics every night.
My network started to make it clear that I probably wouldn’t be around very long. I honestly have no ill will about that time because by and large people were right. I was in way over my head… everyone thought I should be immediately cancelled and then something miraculous happened.
That miracle ended up being a gift horse from Letterman, who popped up on Conan’s late night show, helping him to begin to define a showbiz career he still has today.
After four really dreary months, out of the blue we got a message at the show that David Letterman wanted to come on the program as a guest. No understand, Dave wasn’t just the biggest late night star at the time, he was the biggest thing on television. It was like the Beatles asking Maury Povich if they could stop by and sing a couple of tunes… On February 28, 1994 David Letterman walked onto my set and he blew the doors off the place. It’s easily one of the happiest moments of my professional life. After that one night, that one appearance, everything turned around for me.
The information Conan has chosen to share is particularly interesting, not because it looks to the late night host’s past experience with David Letterman, but because Letterman actually shaped Conan’s career in such a memorable and endearing way. Sometimes the smallest gesture can still make a big change, and in Letterman’s case, his stamp of approval helped O’Brien to make a career.
David Letterman is retiring tonight, and while we've heard a ton of wonderful stories, just know there are a whole lot more special moments people will quietly keep to themselves. God only knows how funny and touching some of those gems must be.