David Letterman is planning to ring in his 25th anniversary in late-night comedy Thursday night with an old favorite—and no, we don't mean Larry "Bud" Melman.
Bill Murray, Letterman's first visitor when he debuted as host of NBC's Late Night on Feb. 1, 1982, and again the inaugural guest on Letterman's CBS Late Show on Aug. 30, 1993, is slated to appear once again on a milestone episode. Also on hand to help celebrate the occasion: NBA superstar LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 59-year-old host, showing no ill effects from 2000 bypass surgery, signed a contract extension last month that will keep him on the air through 2010, a year longer than longtime adversary Jay Leno, who announced plans to pass the Tonight Show baton to Conan O'Brien in 2009.
That would put Letterman within spitting distance of the mark set by his mentor, Johnny Carson, who hosted The Tonight Show for 30 years until his retirement in 1993. Letterman famously coveted Carson's desk, but when NBC went with Jay Leno, Letterman moved a few blocks from 30 Rockefeller to set up shop at the Ed Sullivan Theater, where he's been ever since.
Despite regularly ranking behind Leno in the ratings, Letterman's show has proven more critically adored, winning 14 Emmys in 89 nominations.
Safe to say it's produced a lot of Top Ten lists—3,325 to be precise, emanating from such far-flung Home Offices as Tahlequah, Okalahoma, and Wahoo, Nebraska.
Thursday's show will look back at a quarter-century of Stupid Pet Tricks (there have been 110 segments total), Stupid Human Tricks (73), gag suits (ranging from the Suit of Velcro to the Suit of Alka-Seltzer to the Suit of Suet) and too many Paul Shaffer gags to count.
But with 4,506 broadcasts, 14,772 guest appearances (led by Regis Philbin's 71) and 3,417 musical performances (topped by Warren Zevon's 26 visits, including a poignant interview shortly before the "Werewolves of London" rocker's death), Letterman and his team have plenty of material to choose from for the retrospective. In keeping with the spirit, here are our nominations for the Top Ten Moments in Lettermania:
- Bill Murray doing jumping jacks while singing Olivia Newton-John's hit "Physical" on the premiere episode of Late Night
- Any visit by Andy Kaufman, particularly the 1982 segment in which the comic appears to fight with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler
- Sandra Bernhard's finger getting bitten by a chimp wearing the "Late Night Monkey Cam"
- Bruce Springsteen turning up as the surprise musical guest on his last NBC show
- Launching watermelons and household appliances off the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater and watching the destruction
- His frequent haranguing of his employers, most notably poking fun at CBS honcho Les Moonves for meeting with Fidel Castro in 2001
- Two moments with Cher, one segment in which he arranged a memorable reunion with ex-hubby Sonny Bono and the two sang "I Got You Babe," and the other, a not so pleasant visit in which she calls Letterman an epithet on the air
- Drew Barrymore flashing her breasts at him on his birthday and/or Courtney Love flashing him in, what we think was a bid to upstage Barrymore
- The heartfelt and emotional Late Show just six days after 9/11, the first late-night comedy program to return following the attacks, which featured an uncharacteristically serious monologue
- Letterman interviewing Janet Jackson about her "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl, beginning with the immortal query, "So how's Tito?"