4 things you never knew about David Letterman’s morning show

Yes, Dave had a morning show before Late Night and The Late Show. Called simply The David Letterman Show, it aired on NBC in the morning. And it was so short-lived that there’s at least four things you never knew about it.

1. Paul Shaffer wasn’t the bandleader

Yes, a morning show had a bandleader. Frank Owens headed up the David Letterman Symphony Orchestra. Frank sat at a traditional piano and occasionally traded jokes with Dave (though the two didn’t have Paul and Dave’s rapport). Though Owens didn’t continue on to Late Night, he’s had a long and varied career outside of the Orchestra.

2. It was live and 90 minutes long

Dave’s morning show was broadcast live from New York, and it originally lasted 90 minutes. However, it was quickly cut to 60. As producer Merrill Markoe recalls in this excellent post about the early Letterman, “Almost immediately, the show was cut from ninety minutes to sixty. After that, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to zero.”

3. There was a real newsman on board

Dave enjoyed sharing Small Town News about laughably obscure stories. But The David Letterman Show’s morning time meant it had a duty to share real news too. Edwin Newman had the gig. A longtime Today contributor, Newman was a serious newsman before and after his Letterman stint. But he had a funny side—among other contributions, he hosted Saturday Night Live twice.

4. Stupid Pet Tricks debuted there, but the show was canceled after just four months

Dave made no attempt to tone down what was, at the time, considered a very unusual sense of humor. Gags like Stupid Pet Tricks premiered on the show. But even that couldn’t save it.

On October 24th, 1980, the show ended. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, however. Dave had gotten the cancellation notice on September 30, and he even held an on-air Cancellation Sweepstakes before the axe dropped.

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