Thursday, August 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt four)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

By late 1983, Late Night with David Letterman had reached a crossroads. About half the writing staff had left the show. At one point, there were only six writers. “I do remember there being a small element of desperation and fear,” said Steve O’Donnell, who replaced Downey as head writer. Letterman was concerned. When another Lampoon writer, Jeff Martin, interviewed, Letterman asked when he could start. Martin said he could quit his job tomorrow. “That’s just the kind of loyalty we’re looking for,” Letterman said sarcastically.

But Martin would become part of a new team of writers who stayed together for around six years, through the first explosion in popularity for the show. This new group was composed entirely of white men. This blanket homogeneity was in part a reflection of the comedy scene, marked by institutional sexism and racism, but it was also specific to the show. Its only female writer was its first, Merrill Markoe, who had a major role in hiring the first group of writers. One of the lessons she took from the morning show was that the disparate voices on the staff didn’t mesh well. She aimed to get people who could do one thing: write for the sensibility of the host. Having people who were similar seemed like an asset. “That seemed good to me back then, because it was harmony,” she said, “people who all thought the same.”

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