the end of the Late Show with David Letterman

In the lead up to (David) Letterman’s final episode, there were a lot of best-ofs, tributes, excerpts from the show going up on YouTube and some widespread melancholia. I think I started down the rabbit warren watching a tribute song performed by Adam Sandler, and then went much broader, watching different videos and reading a host of pieces that were each searching for a fresh angle on the same story, the one that everyone wanted to tell.

Different late-night TV hosts followed on with their own tributes – Conan, memorably, told his audience  when to switch over to Dave’s final show (and asked his viewers to record his show, and just watch the ads a few times each).

I even managed to watch some of the final show as it was broadcast on free-to-air TV here in Australia: it was on when I returned home from some meeting or other. It was clearly something that would become and important TV memory; and the final Foo Fighter performance which was overlaid with a montage of moments from the show was particularly poignant.

But a couple of things were missing from the show, and danced around by the various armchair experts.

Retirement is a chance to reflect on mortality. As much energy as he might still have, the amount of effort involved in being a Tonight Show host is incredible, and can only kept up for so long. As beloved as Dave is, the next chapter is going to be smaller than the last at least in overall reach.

The end of Letterman (the show) marks an inflection point on the way that we consume recorded TV-style content. Terrestrial, free-to-air TV has more or less had its day. It will continue on for a while, but the kinds of shared cultural moments that marked the end of a show like M*A*S*H are going to be things that need to be explained to the next generation of viewers.

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