The plaza outside the Late Show with David Letterman was oddly quiet early Wednesday morning, with few tourists seeking out will call tickets, and news trucks swarming. But by mid-afternoon, Broadway between West 53rd and 54th Streets was full of enthusiastic fans welcoming celebrity guests and waiting to give the famed late-night talk show host his final send off.
Notable names seen entering the final taping included Tina Fey, Jim Carry, Peyton Manning, Barbara Walters and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
After 33 years on the air and more than 6,000 episodes, Letterman, 68, taped his last show on Wednesday evening. Stephen Colbert, formerly of the Colbert Report, will succeed Letterman.
At Hello Deli, around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater, Rupert Jee rang up a construction worker for a cup of coffee on Wednesday morning, selling Letterman t-shirts to fans and indulging tourists’ questions about the late night king.
Jee, a frequent guest on the show for the past 20 years, appeared on Letterman’s penultimate show on Tuesday night, sharing his favorite Late Show moments.
“You know, I’m never good at being on camera, so I was more nervous than anything. I just keep my mouth shut and listen to what he says,” Jee said. “The last few weeks have been busy. It’s like it was the first day he had arrived, you know, so now it’s the final days and equally busy. Business has been good, but I’d give that all back if he’d stay a few more years. It’s unfortunate, but all good things come to an end.”
Reed Sandridge stood outside the building, holding an unstamped letter, addressed to Letterman.
“I just thanked him for making us laugh and entertaining us for the last 30 years,” said Sandridge, who is writing one handwritten letter a day all year. “You kind of feel like you know him, you’ve been through his heart surgery. You know the crazy woman that used to break into his homes.”
Joe Toplyn, who worked as a writer on both NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman and CBS’ Late Show, told Metro one of his most memorable experiences was writing a bit where Letterman appeared to be at his desk in the studio, but when the camera pulled back, he was doing the segment from the back of a flatbed truck going 60 mph on a highway in New Jersey.
“That’s a great example of Dave willing to try anything and breaking the form of television,” Toplyn said. “It was surprising and daring.”
Randy Cohen, a long-time Letterman writer who is often credited with the idea for the Top 10 list, said what he takes away from the show as someone who worked on it, rather than watched, was “what good a boss Dave was.”
“I was given the chance to do work I was proud of. I didn’t always succeed, but I was always treated with courtesy and respect, and made to feel my work was valued, which is what anyone wants at any job.”
Cohen said he went to a Letterman show reunion party last weekend, and waiting for every ex-staffer with his or her nametag was an envelope with about six photos from old staff parties, going back 30 years.
“No one had to do that,” Cohen said. “That generous, spirited stuff characterized my time there, and I feel very lucky to have spent my time there.”
Additional reporting by Lakshmi Gandhi.