06/04/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
NBC (Mondays-Thursdays, 12:30 a.m. ET)
He is America's No. 1 smartass. He is also, by far, the most inventive man on TV today. Letterman is a talk show host without fear. He flirts with the boundaries of politeness and humor; he'll try anything once. Like Carson (but unlike Thicke), he knows what to do when a joke bombs—and bomb they do, for that is the price of experimentation. Once, to apologize for a groaner, Letterman paid everyone in the audience $1. He's had a steamroller flatten watermelons and six-packs of beer, just for the heck of it. He's staged man-hunting duels between a Russian psychic and bloodhounds (the Russian won). He's worn a Velcro suit and thrown himself against a wall to see whether he'd stick (he did). He's had as guests a woman who costumes birds, a man who collects snowballs, a woman who collects strange nuts. He gleefully lets people make fools of themselves, and it's wonderful to watch. For as cynical and near nasty as he can be, Letterman is still one of the more likable and most entertaining people on TV. After more than two years on the air, he remains fresh. There's just one problem: He's on the air too damned late; Letterman is bad for your health. When and if Carson does decide to pass on his microphone, here's hoping that he passes it—and his earlier hour—to Letterman. If you haven't seen Letterman yet, then stay up late tonight (and call in sick tomorrow) to watch him.