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Final 'Late Show with David Letterman' could echo end of Johnny Carson's run

Well, this is it, kids. After a 22-year run at the Ed Sullivan Theater, another 11 at Studio 6A at Rockefeller Center... After 6,000 editions, 20,000 guests, after 5,600 hundred Top Ten lists...

After all that: "Late Show with David Letterman" ends tonight. The time for statistics is now past, and apparently even the time for scheduled guests, too. Bill Murray was both the first guest on "Late Night" (Feb. 1, 1982) and "Late Show" (Aug. 30, 1993), and the last official "Late Show" guest Tuesday night. Bob Dylan closed out Tuesday night as music guest.

More "surprises" may arise Wednesday -- but who or what those might be reside in the realm of speculation for the moment. (After all, everyone from the current president to the front man of Pearl Jam has turned up in recent weeks.)

The last edition of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" -- May 22, 1992 -- may offer some guidance about expectations, if only because Letterman has essentially built his own run on Carson's legacy. With a studio audience composed of family and friends, Carson eschewed both monologue and guests that night, but instead directed his final comments to those seated just feet away from him.

Most poignantly, he said, to sons Cory and Chris, "It would have been a perfect evening if their brother Rick would have been here with us, but I guess life does what it is supposed to do. And you accept it and you go on." Richard Wolcott Carson, 39, had died in June the year before, in an automobile accident.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon offered his own poignant tribute to Letterman on Monday's "Tonight Show." Recalling the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Fallon said, "the city was in shock, and we wanted to see what Dave had to say -- there is only one requirement asked of any of us, and that is to be courageous, because courage defines all other human behavior.' "

Letterman was talking about the members of the FDNY and NYPD who had lost their lives that awful day, and so perhaps he will pay tribute to his host city -- his partner over this historic run. Somehow, that would feel especially appropriate.

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