Letterman's Emotional Return to TV
February 22, 2000
David Letterman returned triumphantly to television Monday, Feb. 21, his first show since having quintuple bypass surgery five weeks ago. Letterman taped the show last Friday. His TV return falls conveniently in the middle of the critical networks sweeps.
The Late Show host fought back tears as he thanked the doctors and nurses who "saved my life," but had plenty of barbs for some new pet peeves, including the decaffeinated coffee he's now forced to drink and his second-to-last guest before the operation, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Letterman quipped that he had newfound respect for President Clinton after Hillary's visit. "I spent a half-hour with Hillary," he joked, "and look what happened to me."
"I couldn't have been more proud when these guys carved their initials in me," the 52-year-old comic said, referring to the unfortunate New York woman whose doctor left an unusual signature on her abdomen after performing her Caesarean section.
Among a thinner post-surgery Dave's jokes: that he had a quintuple, rather than a double, bypass because the hospital had a special on it. Just before his surgery, Letterman said, "My career flashed before my eyes. I'm telling you something. It was mostly awkward silences."
To prove how fit he was, Letterman reached down twice and touched his toes before his monologue.
Jerry Seinfeld walked onstage during Letterman's monologue and asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you were dead."
"I'm on CBS," Letterman cracked. "I ain't dead. Why don't you go on home to your wife?"
In addition to guests Regis Philbin and a scrubs-clad Robin Williams, Letterman brought his six doctors and two nurses from New York-Presbyterian Hospital onstage, referring to one surgeon as "Michaelangelo with a bone saw."
He couldn't joke about his massive surgery though. "It was five weeks ago today that the men and women right here saved my life," said the near-tears host.
Letterman may be back, but he's still in recovery mode. Until he's his old self, the Late Show is using high-profile guest hosts for the first time. Bill Cosby fills in on Tuesday, with Letterman returning to work Wednesday. Philbin's talk show partner, Kathie Lee Gifford, is Thursday's substitute, and Letterman expects to work on Friday.
The ratings aren't in yet, but we do know that the going rate for commercials during the Late Show have doubled. According to Advertising Age, CBS is commanding $110,000 and $125, 000 for some 30-second spots, twice the usual rate.
Although many of the ads for the CBS talker were sold upfront last year, meaning the network wouldn't be able to command more money for the special event, studios eager to plug their Oscar nominees contributed to late ad sales, according to the Ad Age article.
Sources in the story say that CBS is expecting an 8.0 Nielsen household rating, which would be more than double the show's season-to-date ratings through Friday February 11.
Many predict that Letterman's rating boost will continue over the next few weeks, which will keep those all-important sweeps numbers, and corresponding ad rates, high.
Finally, in a nearly unrelated story, not everyone is glad for the chance to see more Dave. A woman who lives near the theater where Letterman tapes his show wants CBS to pull the plug on an illuminated sign of the host's likeness.
According to the Associated Press, Anna Soares filed a $12 million lawsuit last week against the network because it has refused her requests to remove the sign.
Soares, 79, lives in an apartment around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater in midtown Manhattan where the show taped. She complains about the high-intensity light of the sign, which she says has been up since Nov. 15 and is left on all night.
Her lawyer said CBS has suggested shades and other light-dimming measures, but won't remove the sign. Talks to try to settle the $12 million lawsuit will continue next Tuesday.
Gil Schwartz, a CBS spokesman, tells AP, "We believe we have the proper permits to have the sign up. We expect to prevail."