Exclusive: What It Was Like Inside David Letterman's Last "Late Show" Taping – I Was There | Playbill

News Exclusive: What It Was Like Inside David Letterman's Last "Late Show" Taping – I Was There Tony Award-nominated producer Michael Moritz, Jr. (Beautiful, On the Town, Big Fish, A Night With Janis Joplin) was among the lucky fans fortunate enough to find themselves at the Ed Sullivan Theatre May 20 to witness the final taping of "The Late Show With David Letterman."

Michael Moritz, Jr.
Michael Moritz, Jr.

Moritz, also an accomplished musician and music director who frequently performs with Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, captures the experience of Letterman's last show in this exclusive for Playbill.com.


Instead of a coaching, several meetings and catching up on email before the holiday weekend, I ended up at the final taping of "Letterman" on a complete whim. I had a fairly packed afternoon of meetings, thankfully no rehearsals. A friend texted to let me know he was planning to call the standby line. He asked if I would be interested in going if he got through. He called in the afternoon to tell me we made 33rd on the standby list. I begrudgingly headed to the theatre to stand in numerical order with little hope of an actual seat. 53rd Street and Broadway were wild. Satellite trucks, national news outlets and bloggers were lined up in droves interviewing everyone. Literally everyone.

We were literally the three last people let in to the last show. Because we were standby, we missed the usual theme-park-style litany of dos and don'ts. No announcements, no hand stamps, just seats. When we were seated at the theatre, the energy was something to behold. I've seen the taping a few times throughout the past 10 years or so. Usually I found the taping to be an incredibly well-oiled, if not formulaic, to a fault. This taping was completely different. Pre-show, Dave entered and said a few thank you's, clearly trying to keep hold of collective emotion of the theatre at large. The audience knew they were there for something special and historic. He took a few questions from the audience, then headed back for the start of the show.

The view inside the final taping.
The view inside the final taping.

From the moment he entered for the start of the actual taping, the audience was ready. The standing ovation at his first entrance lasted an eternity. The next 80 minutes or so were full of the usual schtick, zany video packages and some really terrific throw-back montages to epic "Late Show" moments. The show began to close with a heartfelt list of thank you's to the staff at large, Paul Shaffer, and his wife and son. Dave introduced the musical guest and then gracefully signed off for the final time. The Foo Fighters played what will probably be known as the anthem of Dave's tenure on the air as 33 years flew by in short clips. Usually Dave watches the musical guest from his vantage point. This time, as soon as he signed off, he seemed to take a breath, and make a slow exit upstage left of his desk. You could tell he was savoring every sensation down to the minutiae.

After the credits rolled, Dave re-entered, composed and ready to deliver one last thank you to the audience.

I was always a Letterman fan growing up. I'm originally from Youngstown, OH. Letterman brought a glimpse (sometimes ridiculous, sarcastic, over satirical) of the day to day New York to me that I couldn't find anywhere else. The bits about the heat, the rats, baseball, politics, ad nauseum. I loved that small bit of "inside" that the show brought to the masses. As a pianist and music director, I grew up idolizing the job of Paul Shaffer. The idea that someone could make a living playing music on TV with his friends still strikes me as the dream. The music dork in me often enjoyed the horn arrangements just as much (ok, if not more sometimes) than the guests.

The Broadway producer hat that I also wear is now able to recognize why I've enjoyed the show so much throughout the years. For me, the show was a perfect blend. "The Late Show" was just enough of both familiarity and improv. For me as a viewer, the never-changing format hits a nostalgic note, while the bits and seemingly improvisational nature of the non-interview packages is a perfect balance. I think his format, when conceived, was way ahead of its time, while still completely palatable. His format stands as a bridge between his predecessors in talk and variety and the new Colbert/Fallon style of late-night television.

Michael Moritz, Jr. outside the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Michael Moritz, Jr. outside the Ed Sullivan Theater.

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