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Daily Dave: David Letterman by the numbers

David Letterman says he was not consulted about

David Letterman says he was not consulted about his replacement. Hmmm, wonder how Dave felt about that? Credit: AP

President Obama will appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" this Monday, for his eighth and final visit -- "Letterman" wraps for good May 20.

  But this post is not about the president — it's about that "eight." After 33 years on the air, Letterman and his show have become a statistician's — or perhaps even an accountant's — dream. Over the years, the visits have piled up, and so have the stats — thousands of shows, thousands of guests, thousands of musical acts, thousands and thousands and thousands....

  To celebrate Letterman and his remarkable legacy, I'm going to post each and every day over the next two weeks a "Daily Dave" commentary that explores some aspect of this career, personality and cultural impact. Dave's exit isn't just another exit — it's a historic one that closes an era...Attention must be paid, and plaudits must be handed out. 

 Love him or not, Dave changed television as we know it, and I hope to explore — or perhaps persuade — why this career changed TV for the better...

 But this morning, let's start with the numbers — numbers that offer some clarity about how vast this career has been. Numbers after all don't lie (you may have heard). These certainly don't.

 CBS — as it has done periodically over the years — on Thursday released a detailed statistical overview of Letterman through the years. To the outtakes!

Total number of shows:

"As of May 20, 2015, there will have been 6,028 broadcasts of Letterman’s late night talk shows: 'Late Night with David Letterman' had 1,810 broadcasts and ran for 595 weeks. The 'LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN' has had 4,214 broadcasts, as well as four prime-time specials, and has run for 1,135 weeks."

 My say: Here's what CBS doesn't say here — almost all of these shows, with the exception of a very few when Letterman was recuperating from heart surgery, were hosted by Dave. He is the Cal Ripken Jr. of late night hosts. Johnny Carson — wisely in my opinion — took whole weeks off every year, and left the show in the hands of other capable substitutes. Dave never had a substitute host.   

Bill Murray as Guest in Chief  

"Bill Murray was the first guest on the premiere broadcasts of both 'Late Night' on Feb. 1, 1982 and the 'LATE SHOW' on CBS on August 30, 1993. As of May 20, 2015, he will have appeared on Letterman’s late night talk shows 44 times. 12 appearances on 'Late Night,' 32 appearances on the 'LATE SHOW.' "

 My say: Bill Murray may not have appeared most times over the years, but his appearances have come at important junctures, often beginnings or endings. Let's see — I wonder who the last guest on May 20 will be? Hmmm.

Total number of guests: 

"As of May 20, 2015, there will have been 19,932 guest appearances in more than 33 years on Letterman's late night shows: 'Late Night' — 5,850 guest appearances 'LATE SHOW' — 14,082 guest appearances (approximate)"

 My say: 19,000 guests. They could fill Madison Square Garden. Your favorite one? My favorite one? I can't even begin to answer who mine was...

Regis Philbin, king of guests

"Regis Philbin holds the title of “Most 'LATE SHOW' Appearances,” with a total of 136. Other top 'LATE SHOW' guest appearances (as of May 20, 2015) are: Jack Hanna 75 appearances Tony Randall 70 appearances Marv Albert 52 appearances Tom Brokaw 49 appearances."

My say: Reeg and Dave share a bond — as fans well know — and it's a special one. Letterman has enormous respect for Reeg, and it's justified, but I also think Letterman sees Philbin as a perfect last-MINUTE guest, who can come in at short notice, tell a story, make the audience laugh and make Dave laugh. And unlike so many other Dave guests over the years, Reeg was essentially selling nothing during these outings. Those types of guests often tended to be Letterman favorites.  

Top Tens

"The very first Top Ten List, “Things That Almost Rhyme with Peas,” was presented on 'Late Night' on Sept. 18, 1985. In 33 years, Letterman will have presented 4,605 Top Ten Lists on his late night programs. 'Late Night': 1,009 Top Ten Lists 'LATE SHOW': 4,605 Top Ten Lists."

My say: Imagine Letterman or "Letterman" without a Top Ten? Talk about a culture-changing'-language-busting element that became so wedded to the idea of LIST... To even say "top ten" instantly evokes some sort of ironic send-up of something... It was Dave's own meme — before there were memes. There's a bit of history here, of course: Letterman birthed the Top Ten as a way to mock all those lists that once appeared in People Magazine. But the genesis of this was quickly forgotten as Top Tens took on a life of their own. They remain to this day the sine qua non of any "Late Show" edition.  

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