Ending a run that began 33 years ago, a vast span in TV terms, but almost an eternity in late night, David Letterman wrapped the final show Wednesday evening at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
The final edition -- or No. 6,028, the last in a string that began Feb. 1, 1982, just a few blocks away, at 30 Rockefeller Center -- included a pretaped cameo from President Obama and three other presidents, with the message: "Our long national nightmare is over."
And of course a Top Ten list, "The Final Things I'd Like to Say to David Letterman." That was presented by 10 stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Barbara Walters, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jim Carrey, Peyton Manning and Bill Murray.
Louis-Dreyfus said, "Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale." Seinfeld, who also presented, faux-frowned in the background.
The show's opening began with the taped presentation by Obama and George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The message: "Our long national nightmare is over."
Letterman then begin the last monologue, to the chant of "Dave, Dave, Dave ..."
"I'll be honest with you, it's beginning to look like I'm not going to get 'The Tonight Show.' You know what I'm going to do now that I'm retired? Become the new face of Scientology," he joked.
According to audience members, who had been selected to attend through a lottery, Letterman was emotional but contained.
And following weeks of speculation about a final musical guest, Letterman's last show settled on Foo Fighters, a favorite band of his that also appeared on "Late Show" after the host's quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2000. The band played "Everlong," a chestnut from 1997 album "The Colour and the Shape." Apparently the request to attend the final taping was a surprise to the Foos' front man Dave Grohl, who told Entertainment Weekly that, upon receiving the invitation, the band canceled tour dates to accommodate the taping.
Letterman's final show was not without some behind-the-scenes confusion. As expected, the show ran long -- 17 minutes long, in fact. Letterman and his producers sought to keep the final edition intact, without cutting anything. CBS then had to get affiliates to agree to air the extended edition. They agreed a little after 8.
Letterman's run is without precedent in late-night TV terms, exceeding Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" tenure by three years. His departure has prompted a number of tributes in recent days from other late-night hosts, including Conan O'Brien who, on Wednesday's edition of "Conan," said: "We will not see a man with his comedic talent or integrity in our lifetimes."
O'Brien noted that, after he replaced Letterman at "Late Night," the show was in danger of cancellation. Then, Letterman appeared on O'Brien's struggling program on Feb. 28, 1994, and after that night, "everything turned around for me." O'Brien would remain as host of "Late Night" for 16 years. Letterman had hosted the show, which he launched, for 11 before joining CBS in 1993.
ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" aired a rerun in deference to Letterman.