I’d wanted to do this for decades, but the enormity scared me away. But with my YouTube channel approaching 100 million views, and wanting to commemorate it in a significant way, I figured if not now, when? I had the resources and the means that no one else had, so it was for me to take this on.
The original concept was to include images of Dave at his desk from every late night show he had hosted from 1982 until 2015. That meant scanning through the video files to select 6,028 images from both his Late Nights (1982-93) and Late Shows (1993-2015). After weighing the task vs. my sanity, I decided to scale it back to just the Late Night era, so just 1,810 shows. Still, I’m calling this “Part 1,” so maybe the Late Show era will follow at some point, like, say, when the channel someday reaches 200 million views.
The other plan was to include every show-image of Paul in the upper right and the band in the lower left. But, again, sanity.
With the scope now more manageable, I began scanning through every Late Night, searching for the typical Dave expression — not too extreme, not too tame, though I did include a few goofy expressions as well as other images. The aim was to select shots of Dave looking directly at the camera. I later discovered that there were a few where he was instead looking at the cue cards positioned directly under the camera, as seen below, but they were fleeting, so I let them go:
The image order was based on when the show was taped, not when it was broadcast. There were a number of shows — especially in the earlier years — that aired out of sequence from when they were taped, the most extreme being Show #531, taped April 3, 1985, but not broadcast until six months later on October 29. It had been set aside to be transformed into graphic animation. But the project was eventually scrapped, and so the original video finally aired instead.
And, yes, every show, including January 16, 1991 (#1416), the night the first Gulf War broke out with news coverage preempting all regular programming. The show never aired, and there’s reason to believe that I may now have the only copy.
Searching and selecting appropriate screen-captures took a full month. “Tedious” doesn’t begin to describe the slog. Here’s a screen-capture of the computer directory, looking at the screen-capture for Show #71, June 3, 1982:
Next was fixing the color. The shows all came from different sources, from poor- to pristine-video quality, and the hues bounced all over the place. So each image had to go through the color-correction wash in Photoshop. Not having any training, I struggled to come up with acceptable improvements.
Here are some of the more successful Before/After images:
With the images now prepared as best I could came the next stage: placing them into a video editor. I used iMovie 9 for its relative simplicity. Instead of importing every image into one iMovie file, which would have slowed the processing down considerably, I instead chose the modular approach, creating one file per show year. Here’s what the first 42 images from 1982 looked like when imported into iMovie:
All images were timed at 1 second each, along with a 1-second cross-fade. Exceptions for the first and last, which were set at 4 and 3.5 seconds, respectively, and no cross-fade for the last image. That file was then processed into a 5 1/2-minute video. Here’s what all of the 1982 images looked like after being processed and re-inputted into iMovie:
I then sped up the processed 5 1/2-minute file 500%, which would reduce the duration to just over 1 minute:
After placing the year chyron in position, I processed that into yet another file, now done for 1982. I then set it aside and repeated the inputting/processing sequences for the remaining 10 1/2 years of the show. (This all took considerable trial-and-error until I found what worked to my satisfaction. Also, I had considered ID’ing every image by show number and broadcast date, but I couldn’t guarantee that the placements would be seamless from one image to the next, and, once again, sanity. So I limited it to just the year.)
It was at this point when I realized that all of the color-correction done in Photoshop had been negated when processed through iMovie, so I gave up tweaking everything to “perfection.” The images were what they were.
With all 11 1/2 years now processed at 500% and chyroned with their respective year, I then combined them into one new iMovie file, the “Final Build” (more on that below).
The next stage involved the soundtrack. Except for the 1982 broadcast performance of “Green Onions,” I used music never heard outside the studio. And made sure the timings fit:
1. “Late Night Theme,” Close, then the Open edited in at the end. From January 20, 1982, the first “shakedown show,” and the first time the theme was ever heard. A cooler, “downtown” jazzy feel. The harmonic twist that transposed the theme to a new tonic center (right before what would later become a consistent 10-beat count) was missing here. That wouldn’t be added until the fourth Late Night in early February.
2. “Green Onions.” From April 28, 1982, broadcast.
3. “Late Night Theme,” Close. From December 6, 1982, post-tape. This was found in one of my source tapes.
4. “The Way It Is.” From September 11, 1990, mid-show music break. With a snippet edited in near the beginning from Late Show, December 2, 1993, to fill in the brief silence when the picture went dark. Both with Bruce Hornsby, who sat in with the band on both shows.
5. “Late Night Theme,” Close. From April 20, 1983, here with the full ending that had been cut off when broadcast.
6. “Late Night Theme,” Open. From February 6, 1992, the 10th anniversary special at Radio City Music Hall, here without Bill Wendell’s announcement voice-over.
The last stage involved add-ons preceding and following the main event, the last clips from both aired and unaired videos, with audio extracted from still more unaired material. The audio doesn’t sync with the video, because they’re from entirely different shows, but I wanted to include material never previously seen or heard.
The source material:
1. Prologue chat with Dave and Paul from December 21, 1989, broadcast.
2. Empty desk from May 18, 1982, broadcast.
3. End of faces montage empty desk from March 27, 1992, broadcast.
Epilogue audio and videos:
a. Bill Wendell video from February 23, 1982, Cold Open “Audience Point of View” broadcast.
b. Bill Wendell audio from June 20, 1983, post-tape, extremely low volume, raised here.
c. Dave video from April 18, 1983, post-tape.
d. Dave audio from January 7, 1983, post tape.
Here’s a two-part screen-shot of what the “Final Build” looks like in iMovie, each “Faces” file at 500% comprising every Late Night year (you’ll notice that the 1988 file is shorter due to the prolonged mid-year writers strike):
This isn’t as polished as I would like, but that’s what happens when one takes on a project with near-zero expertise. I hope I’ve done some justice to the upcoming 100-million-views milestone, a number I never imagined when I began this adventure.
This is dedicated to Pam, who would have loved the concept, regardless the execution.
At around 8, 8:30 PM last night, I heard a faint knock on the door. After putting my pants back on, I opened it. There was this guy in a suit who said hello and offered his hand for a shake. I refused it, asked what he wanted, and figured he was a Jehovah’s Witness.
I was wrong. He told me had a subpoena for me, and I was like, um, what? He wanted to hand it over to me, but I didn’t take it, thinking that once I did, he could then split without any explanation. So I asked him what this was all about and looked at the document while still in his hand. It took me around five minutes to realize this was all on the level. It was the Harvey Weinstein case, and for some bizarre reason I was somehow involved in it.
The subpoena instructed me to go to court the following morning and submit a video of a particular Letterman interview. When I came to the broadcast date it required me to provide, I assumed it was the prosecution that wanted the Gwyneth Paltrow clip I had uploaded in October 2017, when the Weinstein news went full throttle. I didn’t inspect the date closely enough — 1997; I forgot that the Paltrow interview was in ’98 — I just assumed that’s what this was about. Also, the subpoena said “Late Night with David Letterman,” so I knew they weren’t in full command of his career. Later I briefly explained the history to both Subpoena Man and the lead attorney, who was on speaker phone.
The guy, a private detective hired here as a process server, told me that I had put the clip up on YouTube but then had taken it down, and they needed the full interview. I said sure, but as far as I knew that clip was still up. So there was some confusion about that.
He also said that I wouldn’t have to go to court if I could get him what he wanted right then and there. So I said yes, let’s do that.
I asked him why they hadn’t asked (or subpoena’d) Worldwide Pants for the video, since it was their content. He told me that they first contacted CBS, who then directed them to Pants. He then said that there was no time to get the show from Pants, as they needed it for court the next day. So they turned to me.
I invited him inside, which was of course a mess. He was taken aback what was in here — the tapes, the equipment, the “stuff.” He called it a museum. I called it a fire trap. We went into the earth station, where I showed him the status of the Paltrow video, that it was still up. He acknowledged that it was and, with my ok, took a photo of the screen. So he was as confused as I was.
Then he told me which interview he needed, and it wasn’t Paltrow; it was Annabella Sciorra. And he wasn’t with the prosecution, he was with the defense. Yikes. That lead attorney on the phone was Donna Rotunno. That changed everything. (I watched an clip of her in the Variety site today. Yep, that was her voice.)
Anyway. they had assumed I had put the Sciorra interview up on YouTube but then had taken it down. I told him that was someone else’s upload, not mine.
He then said the defense team had found me from the 2017 NY Times profile. He seemed quite impressed with the video- and audio-digitizing setup and the ease at which I could find on the computer what he wanted. He turned around and saw a Charlie Parker CD set and marveled at that. So he was a nice guy doing a job he was hired to do. His business is situated in Chicago. He ended up showing me a photo of a music group he was in with his wife, who he said would love what I was doing. So none of this was in any way confrontational. Just at first confusing and suspicious, and then I did what I was required to do, even though it was for Weinstein’s defense. That felt creepy, but I had no option other than to comply.
So I found the show, extracted the interview, and sent it to him via wetransfer. We waited for him to receive the email from the site that there was a file to download. He began downloading it on his phone but it was taking too long. He said would download it on his computer when he returned to his hotel. And then he’d email me to verify he had it and would then state, in writing, that I had complied with the subpoena and was no longer required to go to court. That finally happened after 11.
I asked him about the size of the defense team. He said there were 6 attorneys (we chatted with Donna several times last night). He said the prosecution had at least twice that. So I figured they were strapped for resources and thus the last-minute subpoena for the video.
His email was taking a long time to show up, so I called him (earlier he had given me his card). Talked to someone else, maybe his wife in Chicago. He returned my call just as his email arrived. I asked him how much I could share about this publicly. He said that while he and the attorneys were under a gag order, I wasn’t, so I could talk about whatever I wanted. Thus this blog post.
I then asked him what if I weren’t home when he knocked on my door. Would he have left the subpoena by the door, or was he required to hand it to me in person? He said that it sounds extreme, but he would have had to put a surveillance team on me, waiting outside the building until I showed up. I then asked what if hadn’t heard him knocking, that I was home all the time, and his team would be waiting outside for nothing. He didn’t really have an answer for that, other than nothing’s perfect, these things happen.
I forgot to ask how he even got into the building. Maybe a neighbor let him in, who knows.
As we ended the call he hoped we’d meet up again under friendlier circumstances. We both knew that would most likely never happen, but he was just being nice. He really liked what I was doing with whatever it is I’m doing.
Postscript: While I was waiting for his email last night, I watched the Annabella Sciorra interview with Dave and now understood why the defense wanted it. She testified this morning for the prosecution (google the news for that) and this afternoon is being cross-examined, where, I suspect, the defense will play a portion of the interview where she tells Dave she lies a lot. There’s lots of context missing here, but that’s what they’ll focus on. So they wanted the video to attack her credibility. I feel awful helping them do that, but being in contempt of court isn’t on my to-do list today.
Update. The defense did indeed play the video. I put up the complete interview here so that folks can see for themselves the full context of what the defense selected to challenge her credibility:
The only decent thing I did last night was refuse Subpoena Man’s offer to compensate me for my services; this was before he told me he was working for the defense. So I have a clear conscious about that. Still, what I was legally compelled to do will haunt me for a long time. I hope Sciorra’s testimony prevails.
With CNN’s upcoming “The Story of Late Night” now publicly announced, the NDA everyone signed is now partially no longer in effect. Partially, because those involved can now talk about it to a limited extent but agree to divulge no specific details nor say anything disparaging.
Which is easy, because the director, producers, and crew were an absolute joy.
I had been approached in September 2018 to be interviewed for the series. I initially turned it down, because I’m well aware of how I turn into Elmer Fudd when a camera and microphone are aimed at my face.
But when I subsequently learned that Bill Carter was involved, I reconsidered, and we set up a date for early October. The interview took place in the Lower East Side in a private triplex rented out for various film productions. I had assumed that one of the producers would be handling the questions, but when I got there, someone pointed me to Bill, and I knew then that I had to step up my game. I met Mark Malkoff as he was leaving; he was the first to be interviewed. I’d be the second. I was introduced to Bill, who, amazingly, knew who I was. So that put me at some ease.
We began at around 2 PM and finished at 4. There was a multi-page set of questions prepared for Bill, but I don’t think any of them were asked. I’ll post the sheets after broadcast. During one break (due, I think, to a truck driving past) I managed to sneak a short video with my iPhone.
Afterwards, Bill and I gabbed about “The Late Shift,” Late Night music, and other topics.
Near 5 PM, the crew (without Bill) and I Ubered to my place, where we spent another two hours having me pretend to so stuff — walk up the stairs, enter my apartment, search for a videotape, stick it in a VCR, and start digitizing — all the while talking about this, that, the other.
That finally ended at around 8 PM. Over the next year, I was asked to supply clips and information for them. I’m confident there’ll be an acknowledgement.
I recently learned that the day was all for naught: For reasons I can’t explain yet but fully understand, my segment won’t be included in the series. In the meantime, though, in addition to the video, here are two photos I took: Bill and me after the interview, and the director, John Ealer, and me in the Uber riding to my place.
The Late Show taped and broadcast its last show on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Immediately after the taping that night, work crews began dismantling the set. The following day, remains of the entire studio — the set, the audience seats, everything — began to be placed in truck-sized dumpsters outside, available for public scavenging.
By Friday, barricades had been put up to restrict access of the outside trash to authorized personnel only.
The following Monday evening, May 25, I was in the area having dinner with my dad and step-family. Afterwards, I wanted to take the last photos of the Late Show marquee before, I was told, it was to be torn down the following day (it would end up being a few days later).
I then decided to walk around the corner to W. 53rd St. to see if the barricades were still up. They weren’t. There were just several small dumpsters by the sidewalk. There were no crowds.
I inspected two of the accessible dumpsters and discovered that one was filled with CDs and videotapes. (Visible here are just the CDs. The tapes are over to the right.)
As I was scooping up the videotapes, others began to gather by the second accessible dumpster. They had no interest in what I was looking for, because they no longer had VCRs. I had the CDs and tapes dumpster to myself. (Later they noticed the CDs, and I told them they were all theirs as soon as I was done with the tapes.)
I also found a basket, and the plan was to fill it with the tapes and carry it back home. But I soon realized that it was too small to fit everything; I’d need something larger. I noticed a giant double trash-bag on the ground, filled with food scraps. I separated the outer bag and filled it up with the tapes. A security guard told me to make sure that I left the sidewalks clear before I split. That’s all that concerned him; he didn’t care what I was collecting.
I dragged the increasingly-brittle bag down to the street corner on 8th Ave. and caught a cab home. While lifting the bag, it began to tear at the bottom, but I was able to retrieve the tapes slipping out onto the street.
I made it home, the bottom of the bag now nearly disintegrated but all tapes now safely in the apartment.
I spent the next week digitizing some of the tapes. I learned that they had been in Late Show writer Joe Grossman’s office; he had left them behind for workers to toss out after he and everyone else on the staff had departed for good. Around half of the tapes were live feeds of news events. The other half consisted of raw production footage that captured the rehearsals and takes of comedy segments Joe had written for the show and, after editing, would be scheduled to air at a later date (though a few never did). There was other show-related material on the tapes whose beginnings had been erased in place of the new production footage. I digitized that, too.
Update: I was asked to remove the videos I had uploaded. I willingly obliged. Maybe someday in the future.
First and foremost: This was neither my creation nor promotion. Some have suspected it’s a play on “The Fonz,” but it’s not. Here’s what happened:
In the mid-Eighties, I was working as a music editor at a publishing house in midtown Manhattan. One of the art directors, Mary Ellen (“M.E.”) Morganteen would add an “s” or a “z” to our names. For the hell of it.
Here’s a memo from 1986 that cc’s “Stan” as “Stans”:
And here’s a note from M.E. to me from June 20, 1986:
Somewhere along the way “The” was added, here also from 1986. Note the “z” is missing:
The music project ended in mid-1987, and with that everyone working on it went their separate ways, nearly all into other publishing houses or their own companies. I began my career as a freelance music typesetter.
Three years later I signed up to AOL and selected “Donz” as my screen name. But it was already taken, as were “Donz1,” “Donz2,” “Donz3,” and “Donz4.” So I grabbed the next available slot with “Donz5.”
In the mid-Nineties, as I began cultivating contacts with David Letterman’s writers, producers, and musicians, they would soon refer to me as “Donz,” and soon after “The Donz.”
The writers even got Dave in on the action when they composed a Top Ten list to commemorate the launch of the Late Show’s web site in May 1998:
And now I’m stuck with it for life. Here’s an excerpt from an episode of the “Upgrade” podcast, June 24, 2019, with Jason Snell and Andy Ihnatko:
“I’d like to know more about your Letterman databases, please,” said no one ever.
I. The Background
I had been compiling written logs for the first three-plus years of Late Night while recording most of the shows onto audio cassettes. Because I lacked a VCR until mid-February 1985, I’d scribble as much detail as I could so that it would hopefully remind myself what the various sight gags had been if and when I would ever convert those notes into something more permanent, like, say, a digital database. Here’s one page from the audio cassette logs, late December 1983:
I also lacked a computer, and so the search was on for what sort of database application would work best on an as-yet-to-be-determined machine. I had been working two jobs in the early ’80s as a graduate student in Historical Musicology at Columbia U.: The first was during the day in the Ethnomusicology Department, where I would dub and catalog rare reel-to-reel World Music audio tapes for the department’s archives; at night I’d be in the university’s computer lab, inputting Busnoy chansons in their original mensural notation, one coded note at a time, for a database project that would facilitate manuscript source comparisons.
It was the Busnoys project that suggested to me the potential of databases, and I wanted to see how such a project could lend itself towards organizing my Late Night logs. The Ethno. Dept. had bought its first non-networked multi-sectioned IBM behemoth in 1983 (256K RAM as I recall), and it intimidated the hell out of me with all of the time-consuming coding required to accomplish the most simple tasks. It wasn’t for me.
In 1984 I checked out my friend’s home Kaypro to see how it could handle databases. Its rigidity in creating fields and its search limitations left me unimpressed. I scratched that one off the list, too.
I found work as a music editor in an educational book-publishing company in midtown Manhattan in February 1985, a week after I had purchased my first VCR. The offices were networked with Wang computers — built for basic text editing, non-existent for graphics and databases. That summer, the computer manager had the company purchase a Macintosh; it was the earliest model at the time, a self-enclosed unit with a 9″ (diagonal) display, one internal 400K floppy drive, and RAM at a whopping 128K. He kept it on his mostly-abandoned office desk and invited anyone to test-drive it.
I was among the few who did. There was one “feature” that I found intriguing — the ability to sort the Finder window any way one wanted — by name, by file size, by date created. That flexibility was just what I was looking for, so any database that could do that was what I wanted.
At the time, there were several affordable database-focused applications for the Mac, all targeted for the business/finance world: Jazz, Excel, and OverVue. What attracted me to OverVue was that it was RAM-based, which meant processing speed would be much faster than disk-based, depending on the amount of RAM available (it would take Jazz five minutes just to load). Also, OverVue allowed for multi-paragraph-length text cells, a feature then missing in Excel and Jazz.
So in August 1985, I walked over to midtown’s 48th Street Photo and got a free demo of OverVue.
(Standing beside me at the counter was Will Lee. He was there shopping for a computer. I had never met him before, so we chatted for a few seconds, and after I picked up the demo disk and began walking out, I turned around and yelled back, “Get the Mac!”)
I launched OverVue into the office Mac. Because it was a demo, file-saving was disabled, but after inputting just a few fields and rows, I knew that this was just what I needed. It was time to finally buy a Mac for myself.
That happened a month later, in late September 1985. It was the most current model, a 512K RAM monster. The first applications I bought were Word and OverVue. I finally began to create my first Letterman database, transferring all of the hard-copy logs I had compiled since 1982 into the application. The best part was its flexibility; I could expand and create more fields whenever I wanted. It allowed for anticipating data not yet available as well as adding details that would become useful down the line.
It’d be ten years later when, in 1995, I finished inputting all of my Late Night data, then in a 1988-purchased Mac II, later upgraded to a IIfx. (There’d be subsequent desktop Macs bought — a PowerMac 7600 in November 1996; a G4 in April 2000, a MacPro in March 2007, and the MacPro trashcan model in August 2014.) By the early ’90s, OverVue had changed its name to Panorama, and it still thrives today. I use maybe 10% of its capabilities, but it fully serves my purposes.
II. The Databases
A. The Late Night Database (SSIDB)
1. The Source Material
The bulk of my Late Night database came from both my audio cassette and videotape logs. But it wasn’t complete. While I watched and logged in the shows, it was clear that there was a lot of information I didn’t have at the time — song titles, obscure guest spellings, shows taped on days other than when aired.
Much of that information was filled in when, in the mid-’90s, I received logs of the complete Late Night inventory from various sources. I had begun a phone correspondence with the producer of E!’s “Smothers Brothers” syndication in 1992, and when the network began airing Late Nights in December 1993, the Smothers Brothers producer connected me with the person handling the Late Night account.
Through that contact, I was sent E!’s Late Night log in 1994. It listed all show dates, comedy bits, guests, song titles. Here’s the first page, from 1982:
Around a year later, someone at the Late Show handed me a copy of NBC’s own log of the shows. It included more details, mostly pertaining to NBC concerns, such as repeats and contract restrictions. Here’s one page from that log, from 1985:
A short while after I had acquired the NBC log, I was given another log that had been prepared by then-Late Night staffers Barbara Gaines, Barbara Sheehan, and, for a while, Jay Johnson. The three were positioned behind the stage, keeping track of what was going on in front by way of a tv monitor. One version, sent to me from California in ’94, had been compiled in 1989. It was titled “Almost Eight Years.” The final version included the entire 11 1/2-year run of the show, and it was titled, appropriately, “Eleven Years”:
Two sample pages from “The Gaines Log” from 1987 and 1991:
The last log I received was the ‘Talent Payments” book, begun in mid-1984 and stopped in the Spring of ’93. It kept a record of who appeared on each show and how much they were paid. The payment data has been blackened out, but the log’s value was more in the inventory of names. One sample page from 1989 (the week in Chicago):
Both the Gaines and Talent Payments logs have since been scanned and converted into searchable PDFs.
In addition to the hard-copy logs, starting in the mid ’90s I began cultivating contacts with writers, producers, and musicians from Dave’s Late Night and Late Show years. Through them I gained back-stories to comedy material, guests, musical memories, and histories of the writers’ tenures. And a whole lot more. It all went into both the Late Night and NYC Musicians databases (more on the latter below).
2. The Contents
The SSIDB consists of several elements:
a. Basic information on show numbers, dates, and repeats. Here’s a sample image from mid-November 1985 to early January ’86:
b. Broadcast sources from my collection. A sample image from the same period.
c. Sources from others via trades and acquisitions. (Image not provided due to some requests for anonymity.)
d. The main course: Show and band details.
The show details. Each cell contains as much information as I currently have. Here are two screen captures for June 12, 1985, the day “The Late Night Anthem” premiered. Included are details of its origins (because it’s so long, I copied the contents into TextEdit; otherwise, it would have taken 10 pages):
The band details. Each cell consists of all band members who played throughout any particular show. From this data I can locate any participating musician and band (David Sanborn, Bruce Kapler, Charley Drayton, Tower of Power horns, etc.) and determine total counts for each. Two examples from February 25, 1982, and September 14, 1988:
Much of the band information is collated into the “Into the Index” database, detailed below.
e. Various miscellaneous fields: Top Ten lists, TV Guide listings, Viewer Mail running count (establishing that Mark Hamill’s totals were way off), my pre-VCR audio cassette catalog, Cold Open intros to repeats, and other stuff for future video compilation projects.
3. The Name
Why it’s lovingly called the SSIDB: It’s short for “Super-Secret-Informational-Database,” and it springs from the following alt.fan.letterman newsgroup thread from the week of July 2004. Based on a skeptic who suspected and therefore resented that I must have had a privileged entry into a secret online source for all things Dave. Despite hints from fellow posters, he refused to consider the possibility that the information I had been sharing in the newsgroup had all been derived from my own files. The thread, initiated by another fan of mine, was titled “Donz5 Sux Ass.” I couldn’t have been more proud.
In 1995, I unexpectedly received a package from one of the Late Show producers. It consisted of hundred-plus-page printouts of two databases that Late Night staffers had put together throughout the show’s years at NBC. One consisted of guests, the other of comedy segments. The printouts were sorted in alphabetical order. Here’s the first page of the Guest printout:
And the first page of the Comedy printout:
I scanned the printouts, then, after fixing the OCR errors, I combined them into one database. Rather than alphabetical, I arranged the data by show date/number. Here’s a sample screen capture from June 1983:
I could now search and sort anything I wished. Such as the band members, which I added from the SSIDB. Here’s a sample image showing all of the times bassist Neil Jason subbed for Will Lee during Late Night’s first two-and-a-half years and, in most cases, the reasons for Will’s absences:
The “Into the Index” database is far from finished, as I continue to add staff information from the Talent Payments log, such as those seen in the “Players” field from the first screen capture.
I had also separately received a printout log of Dave’s 1980 morning shows, so I incorporated all of that data into this same file.
Searching through the SSIDB, the Gaines log, the Talent Payments log, and the “Into the Index” log, I can find nearly everything I’m looking for.
C. Closing Credits Database
Every so often there’d be enough time in the Late Night hour to include a full closing credit. I compiled nearly all of them into my “Closing Credits” database. A sample screen capture from July 7, 1982:
Again, now inputted, searching and sorting is a snap. Here’s a search for Barbara Gaines. You can see her gradually rise during the 1982-1989 period from Third Production Assistant to Production Coordinator. (By 2015 she’d be one of Late Show’s Executive Producers.)
There’s another field, not shown, with biographies of and notes from many staffers.
Also not yet finished; there are around 40 more Closing Credits to input.
D. NYC Clubs Database
I spent the mid-’90s summers in the Columbia U. library microfilm room, where I searched its microfilms of Village Voices from the early ’60s up to when I began collecting the hard-copy issues after I moved to NYC in the Fall of ’78. I was initially interested in tracking the Late Night band members’ careers — their recording sessions and public performances, mostly NYC-centric — but it soon expanded into something broader, tracing the career whereabouts of countless other selected musicians (such as members from Encyclopedia of Soul/Stuff; Steps Ahead/Steps; the Brecker Brothers, Larry Coryell, Joe Beck, Steve Marcus, Mike Mainieri, and many, many more).
Here’s one page of notes from January 1977:
And here’s the same data, plus all of February 1977, as input into the NYC Clubs database:
Here’s one of the “Musicians” cells opened up, from Mike Lawrence’s gig at Mikell’s on January 9, 1977:
And, finally, an opened cell from the “Comments” field from the same January 9th gig, an email from Hiram Bullock:
There are currently over 19,000 entries, and its far from complete. Much more to input.
E. Non-Late Night Database
This database consists of as many of Dave’s broadcast appearances as I could find before his career landed at NBC. It includes game shows, Tonight Show guest and guest-host dates (and his guests), and singular appearances. A sample image from 1976 to early ’79, with some air dates still to be determined:
F. Music/Bumpers Database
This one began this year. It documents every song Paul’s band performed during the commercial breaks, as well as all of the bumpers used within those breaks. It’s only up to September 1982 so far. A sample screen capture from June/July 1982:
G. ManWhos Database
Another ongoing project, inputting all of Bill Wendell’s show introductions, in two sections, “From New York…” and “And now, a man who…” A sample image from late March to late April 1982:
H. The Late Show Databases
I maintained my own bare-bones Late Show databases: One consisted of guests and performers throughout the show’s 22-year run; the other focused on the more basic data — dates taped, aired, and repeated and where they could be found in my videotape collection. It’s since expanded to include other show-specific details, such as band song titles as compiled by Micah While from 2002 until 2007.
I plan to incorporate other logs into the latter database: one put together by Late Show media producer Walter Kim from 1993 to September 1996, all of the Wahoo Gazettes that Production Coordinator Mike McIntee had published in Late Show’s online sites from late 1998 until the end in May 2015, and Supreme-Fan David Yoder’s logs that he had maintained throughout all of Late Show. Walter’s and Mike’s are in Word, while David’s is in PDF format.
A couple months after Late Show ended, I was sent the show’s own databases, split up, like their Late Night counterparts, into two categories: Guests, and Comedy Segments, but here as Excel files rather than printouts. Like all projects of this enormous size, it was not error-free: A few music acts would find themselves in the Comedy database; there’d be some misspellings, which would make searching more difficult; and some guests would be missing. All minor and fixable, but it meant that all of those end-of-show stats that were made available to the media were incorrect.
Still, it was an invaluable resource, and once I had converted and combined both Excel files into one Panorama database, organized it into a more accessible format (for me), and corrected errors when I found them, it ended up saving a ton of time when looking for nearly any detail.
So, as with the Late Night data, combined searches through Walter Kim’s and David Yoder’s logs, Mike McIntee’s Wahoo Gazettes, and the Late Show’s own databases, as well as my own, I can find nearly everything thrown at me.
I. You Tube Videos Database
Lastly, my You Tube Videos Database. It seemed wise to keep track of the 1,400-plus videos I’d so far uploaded onto my You Tube channel, and a database was the logical solution. It’s gotten to the point when I’ll get a video request and will have to check the database to see whether I’ve already put it up. And if I have, it’s a simple and quick matter of just providing the link.
Aaron Barnhart interviewed me in my apartment on August 2, 1995, for a profile in the Village Voice. A photographer dropped by a week later. Despite failing to get anything remotely interesting out of his subject matter, Aaron managed to put this together, published on August 29, 1995:
Meet Don Giller, Letterman Archivist and Infomaven. By Aaron Barnhart
In the small Minnesota town where my wife grew up was a Jack Sprat Food Store that an eccentric widower named Ed Krueger ran for 65 years. Early on, Krueger discovered he had an insatiable appetite for collecting things, and started using his store as a repository. Anything inanimate was saved: unbought merchandise, customer receipts, town records, movie memorabilia, opera music, his dead cat, and of course endless stacks of newsprint. By the time Krueger was ready for the rest home, the only usable work space in the store was a glass counter at the front where he sold candy and cigarettes. The rest, as he called it, was “Ed’s Museum,” but it worked kind of like the old full-service groceries. You came in and struck up a conversation with Krueger, and at the mention of anyone or anything having to do with the town, the cinema, or the opera, he would go rummaging through all the crap and find some relevant item to look at in remarkably short order.
There are probably hundreds of Ed Kruegers in every major city, voracious gatherers of information who, in another era, might have endeared themselves to neighbors, or met under the flourescent light of a civic center. But in this increasingly anomistic age they have taken instead to the online services and the Internet, where they mingle with a larger and more diverse community than would otherwise have been possible. In turn, each of these infomavens performs the valuable service of helping civilize one more corner of the wild wild web called cyberspace.
On the alt.fan.letterman newsgroup, the resident infomaven is Don Giller — Donz5@aol.com as he is known to the newsgroup’s 30,000 or so regular readers — who specializes in answering questions about the 20-year television career of David Letterman. Donz5 can tell you on what game shows Letterman was a celebrity contestant in the 1970s, reconstruct the look and feel of Dave’s 1980 morning show on NBC, list every date that your favorite entertainer appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, or produce detailed CVs for most every writer and musician who has worked on the show.
My favorite Donz5 messages conjure images of a Midwestern sociologist combing census data, block-by-block. Someone recently complained on the newsgroup that Letterman was now habitually sacrificing the program’s scheduled third guest, usually for the sake of some lame comedy bit. Inspired, Donz5 quickly compiled and posted a list of every guest bumped in the 101-week history of the CBS Late Show. His conclusion? Dave’s been leaving more guests in the green room in recent weeks than ever before. Donz5 added a disclaimer: “I lay no claim to completeness, as I know I missed a few, such as one of Bobby Tessel’s bumps.” But it _looked_ complete — and anyway, who the hell was going to challenge him?
Internet statistics rate alt.fan.letterman as the second most popular personality fangroup after Rush Limbaugh’s. While alt.fan.jay-leno barely registers a pulse with 10 to 20 messages a week, alt.fan.letterman averages 1000, ranging from casual viewers to die-hard fans like Pam Cox, an Oklahoma City housewife who logged in to the newsgroup to crow about her unexpected selection as cohost-for-a-night of a recent Late Show. When others posted messages suggesting Dave should have picked someone else, she wailed, “This has been the greatest moment of my life so far and I am not going to let people like you ruin it for me.”
Donz5 arrived at alt.fan.letterman a little more than a year ago, when America Online, where he has an account, began offering its subscribers access to newsgroups. Before that, he had been recording Letterman programs for a decade and exchanging rare videotapes (such as broadcasts of Dave’s morning show) with other collectors on AOL and CompuServe. Don Giller moved to New York in 1978 to earn his masters in historical musicology from Columbia, then worked for the music division of Holt, Rinehart and Winston until its New York office closed in 1987. He bought a Macintosh and began working out of his home as a freelance typesetter for Holt and other music publishers.
Giller’s one-bedroom apartment combines work with life-away-from-work so thoroughly that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The eight-year-old Macintosh sits on a table in his work room (“the earth station,” he calls it); above it, shelves stretch to the ceiling with software manuals and several years of computer magazines, Beatles albums, bootlegs, and literature. To the left of the Mac, a stereo sits atop three VCRs; Giller points to the bottom machine and jokes, “I use that one as a clock.” Against the other wall are more magazines, more music, a keyboard and a stack of analog equipment from a long-abandoned hobby. There is just enough room here for the two of us to conduct an interview, and none for the videotapes. Those are in the front room — 3200 of them and counting, stacked three deep — where they share space with hundreds of classical LPs from the musicology days, his bed, and his cat.
Giller became the amazing Donz5 by inputting thousands of items from his collection into a database, which he tends like an organic garden. We get to talking about Rob Burnett, the Late Show head writer who is helming Bonnie Hunt’s new CBS sitcom. Without warning, Giller whirls around in his chair and keys “Burnett” into a search field on his Macintosh. Not much happens; instantly he realizes he’s searching the wrong part of his database. “Hold on,” he tells me, “I know exactly what I’m doing.” And like old Ed Krueger, he’s right: soon we are looking at a list of every Burnett mention from the Letterman show’s closing credits, 1985 to present, an impressive climb from “Production Staff 4” (meaning the fourth most senior member of production) to “Researchers 2” to “Writers 11” and up that totem to the top.
Amidst the chaos of the newsgroups, a man can walk tall when he sports a hefty database. A newcomer to alt.fan.letterman posts a message asking who was Dave’s worst all-time guest. Besides the usual suggestions (Cher, Shirley MacLaine), one message nominates the guy who invented the graffiti remover stuff that was orange- colored or -based or something. he had more jewelry than mr. t. Sensing trouble, Donz5 dips into the data and posts this message:
“Don’t recall the jewelry, but that was Rocky Dellutri. Bryant Gumbel was also a guest on the show, February 26, 1985 (#520) (as were the immortal Schmenge Brothers, who sang ‘Cabbage Rolls and Coffee’), and since Bryant wasn’t wearing socks, Dave spray-painted them on his ankles. Later in the show Dave gave a giant hand-shadow finger on the Exxon building with hand-shadow expert George Gilbert.”
Someone else offers that a drunken and hostile Oliver Reed, circa 1987, was the worst-ever guest. Donz5 swats that down with a reference so obscure:
“What tempers this view is the fact that Reed stuck around after 2 segments to participate in a show promo with Dave that aired a few weeks later.”
you wonder if even Letterman’s people would remember it.
In person, Giller seems a little embarrassed by this trove of Lettermania (at one point he says to me, “There’s a fine line between getting information and creeping people out”). But his online presence commands respect, and things can get ugly when it doesn’t. After someone challenges his mastery of the permissions guidelines for Dave’s on-air phone calls, Donz5 sniffs, “Thanks for jumping in; you must be new here. And if you claim it, it must be true: I just make up things around here. Ask around and get back to me.”
Online and in person, Giller bears the pride and the countenance of the academic. He tells me he’s working on a theory he’d like to publish about the evolution of Letterman’s show. There have been three distinct phases since 1982, the most recent occurring when several senior writers, including Chris Elliott, quit Late Night in 1990 and Dave’s longtime mentor, Peter Lassally, began to assume a larger creative role. At that point, Giller says, the format changed “from a repertory into a show that’s just about Dave.” I ask him if he’s ever tried this theory out on Letterman’s staff; he smiles and says, “The easy thing would be to just ask them. It’s more fun to figure it out yourself.”
Indeed, despite living just a subway ride up Broadway from the Ed Sullivan Theater, attending the occasional taping, and engaging in frequent e-mail exchanges with Letterman staff — a number of whom are online addicts (including producer Robert Morton) — Giller keeps a respectful distance from the show. He is, however, trying to get an official blessing for a book project, modeled on Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive two-volume Beatles chronology. Lewisohn got the green light from producer George Martin, says Giller, because his proposal fixated on the sheer data of the Fabs’ careers and avoided mentioning their personal lives. (Giller also has collected most of the records and performance dates of the three musicians who formed the original Late Night band with Paul Shaffer in 1982. He says he is still trying to fill in some of the musicians’ early dates but adds, “If they were in _rehabilitation_ then I don’t want to know about it.”)
So far, three book publishers have taken a pass and a fourth has suggested a small trade paperback similar to other “unofficial” Dave guides published in recent years. It seems unlikely that an official encyclopedia will appear until Letterman’s retirement, if ever.
Fortunately, the fandom industry is shifting towards electronic media, where Giller excels. (Trekkies are so numerous on the Internet that the old rec.arts.startrek newsgroup had to spin off six new subgroups to keep the message levels manageable.) The coffee-table book Donz5 is compiling will in all likelihood be published on the the rapidly-growing Internet multimedia space of the World Wide Web. Giller would need a substantial computer upgrade to access the Web, and he wonders how he will be compensated for his efforts, since the Internet still lacks a decent payment scheme for online content.
My feeling is it’s just a matter of time before ultraspecialists like Donz5 generate at least a modest cash flow from cyberspace. Look at moneymakers like CompuServe’s Entertainment Drive, which succeed despite mediocre content and interfaces. Giller doesn’t have the marketing savvy or broad, bland focus of E-Drive, but his work ethic and his ability to think clearly amidst staggering levels of inventory bode well for him in the coming information economy. He is a curator in search of patronage, and given the mass appeal of Dave it’s safe to say that eventually he will find it.
Meanwhile, it’s back to alt.fan.letterman, where someone has posted a message addressed to Paul Shaffer, asking what music the band played for David Hyde Pierce on the previous night’s Late Show. Donz5, who has never sighted Shaffer (or Letterman) online, handles the question.
“No need to ask Paul. The band has played the Beatles’ ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ every time Hyde has guested on the show.”
October 13, 1967. Sixteen at the time, growing up in Baltimore, a month into the 11th grade. Neil, a school buddy, worked as an usher in the Lyric Theatre downtown, and he arranged to reserve tickets for my pal Paul and me: Front row, center seats.
The city was then more tuned in to Motown and not the Doors, so we figured the crowd would be relatively light. But I forgot that that Friday night was Yom Kippur. It turned out there were maybe 15–20 people scattered about in the audience.
Tim Rose was the opening act. Alone with his guitar, he sang “Hey Joe.” I muttered to Paul that Dino Valenti had written that song (learning decades later that it was actually Billy Roberts). Tim then instructed us that _he_ had written it, and that was that.
Then The Doors came on stage. I can’t imagine they were all that thrilled performing in front of so few people, but they went ahead with their full set. There was a moment when, during a brief lull between songs, Paul and I were whispering to each other, and Jim Morrison suddenly shouted into his mic, “WAKE UP!!” while leering at us. His way of introducing their closing marathon number, “The End.”
The show was over. I have no memory how this happened, but I do remember tagging along and chatting with Ray Manzarek outside the theater as he and the rest of the band walked toward their car, which was parked in an alley a block or so away. Robby Krieger was the only one carrying his instrument; I assume their roadie was taking care of the rest of the equipment in a van parked besides their car.
Keep in mind that there were no other fans around; it was just the five of us.
I asked them all to sign the back of the playbill, and they did, writing their first names only. Not at all the persona he had displayed on stage, Jim was civil and gracious as he added his signature. I remember he even said “Thank you.”
They all then got into their car, Jim in the driver’s seat, and off they went.
I haven’t a clue why I chopped off a quarter of the playbill. I did write down the songs as they performed them, also seen on the back.
It was Autumn, 1971. I was three months shy of 21, living with some friends in Silver Springs, MD, on a break from college. On December 7, I went to a Pentangle concert in DC. After the performance, I walked backstage and spotted an open door. It was the band’s dressing room, so I stepped inside. There sat Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Badly attempting to express how much their guitar chops had meant to me, I managed to convey to John that I had learned “My Dear Boy” by ear from his 1968 LP “Sir John Alot…”
John then asked me to play it for him: He picked up his guitar and led me outside the dressing room into a nearby empty stairwell. He handed me his guitar, and I then performed his song in front of him. I hadn’t felt so simultaneously humbled, intimidated, and thrilled.
When I finished, I gave his guitar back to him, and he then proceeded to play it the right way, without my awkward, gymnastic fingerings all over the fretboard. Oh, you barre it here, and there, and it’s so simple and approachable that way!
John then offered to send me a guitar transcription of the song and asked me to write down my address. I did, but, alas, the transcription never arrived. No matter; that evening with him in that stairwell, playing his guitar to an audience of one — him — was quite enough.
Rest in peace, John Renbourn. You were the most enduring influence in my late teenage guitar daze.
Originally posted on my Facebook page on March 28, 2015, shortly after John’s passing.