‘Late Night With David Letterman’ Premiered On This Day in 1982

by Katie Maloney

Thirty-nine years ago today, audiences stayed up late for the premiere of Late Night With David Letterman.

Undoubtedly, Letterman’s late-night talk show is iconic. The show premiered on February 1, 1982, and aired for 11 years. Since then, producers reformatted the show with different hosts including Late Night with Conan O’BrienLate Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Despite being the first episode, the show featured some big names including Bill Murray and Don Herbert (known as Mr. Wizard). Because the show has been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that Late Night was innovative. However, at the time, Letterman was a trailblazer. With his improvised moments and out-of-the-box segments, Letterman brought things to his show that no other host had done before. In celebration of the first episode’s anniversary, we’re highlighting a few of the episode’s best moments.

Stand-Out Moments From The First Episode Of Late Night With David Letterman

The Opening Monologue

What better way to reel in viewers than with an opening monologue that leaves them thinking, “What was that?” From the very first minute of his show, Letterman knew exactly how to pull audience attention. The opening monologue features an odd speaking man warning viewers that what they are about to watch “will thrill you, it may shock you, it may even horrify you.”

First episode of The Late Show With David Letterman

The Backstage Tour

Every audience member’s dream is to know what happens behind the scenes of their favorite television show. Letterman takes full advantage of the opportunity to offer viewers a glimpse backstage. He leads the camera to the greenroom which hilariously doubles as a greenhouse. He shows audiences the control room where crew members are partying Oktoberfest-style complete with beer steins and accordions.

The Bill Murray Interview

Letterman never just interviews guests, he interacts with them. And, in a way, he invites every viewer to interact along with them. His interview with Billy Murray was no different. The show once again breaks down the barrier between audiences and the backstage crew when Murray invites a crew member onstage to dance to his rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical.” This is a prime example of Letterman’s out-of-the-box segment ideas.

Science Experiments With Mr. Science

If viewers weren’t already riveted by the show’s previous segments, Letterman made sure they received the entertainment they deserved when he took the stage with Mr. Science. The two performed experiments together including setting a row of matches on fire.