12/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
In January David Letterman started a rumor that Dan Rather and Peter Jennings had secretly married. In March he introduced the Monkey-Cam, a tiny TV camera worn by Zippy the chimp. By year's end Letterman had shown he could be sensitive ("Hal Mason died in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 69. He was the creator of such delightful cartoon characters as the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Mr. Clean and Ed Meese"), astute ("A poll in USA Today said that three out of four people in this country make up 75 percent of the population") and concerned ("The commissioners of the NFL and the NBA met with Nancy Reagan yesterday to discuss the drug problem. Asked what the First Lady said, NBA commissioner David Stern replied, 'She asked me if I'd ever seen Magic Johnson naked.' ").
This is also the year the Late Night host's askew humor finally found a home in the heartland: Letterman, 39, co-hosted the Emmys, begat a talk show revival and earned his best-ever ratings—which makes him nervous. If the ratings plummet, he said, "I'll be left a lonely, broken shell of a human being—like I am now."