David Letterman: All Joking Aside
In television history, Monday, Sept. 17, will be remembered as the night that CBS Late Show host David Letterman, 54, skipped the Stupid Pet Tricks and comforted millions with a simple human gesture. Back from vacation a week after the Trade Towers attack, a teary, halting Letterman started off speaking of America's need to find the courage to muddle on with routine life. Then—so much for routine—his first guest, CBS anchor Dan Rather, broke down. Letterman, famously cool to the warm fuzzies, gripped his hand. "You're a professional," Letterman said, "but, good Christ, you're a human being." And so is Dave. The man who defined the Age of Irony—that flip, the-world-is-but-a-toy-xylophone-l-play-with-my-funny-bone air of detachment—had already shown new warmth, dignity and strength since bouncing back from quintuple bypass surgery two years ago. But who expected a late-night Lincoln? "It was," says Rather, "Dave's finest hour." In the weeks since, he has slowly edged his way back into the old silliness. "Every joke is a tough decision, and you feel your way," says executive producer Rob Burnett. "There's no one in the world I'd trust more to feel our way than Dave."
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