My Late Night with David Letterman History

I suppose you could say this project began on February 1, 1982, but I was surely unaware of any far-sighted overview. I just wanted to preserve, in my own primitive way, what I was watching for an hour every late weeknight. It started on audio cassettes, at first intermittently, then nightly by Spring ’83.

Keeping track of each cassette content required logs. Here’s what I jotted down for the first half of Late Night’s debut (yes, I didn’t know the correct spelling of Paul’s last name):

I had purchased my first VCR in mid-February 1985, and from that date on I videotaped every Dave until his final Late Show thirty-plus years later. The logs continued throughout. This is from June 1992, documenting the contents of Videotape #1,611:

I bought my first Mac in the Fall of ’85, and one of my earliest computer projects was to transfer all of the logs — both audio cassette and VCR — into a searchable database. The data would later expand to include thousands of supplementary information provided by both public and private sources. Here’s a screenshot of one portion of the database, affectionately known in some circles as the SSIDB (SuperSecretInformationalDataBase):

In the mid-’90s I began trading videotapes with others around the country to close gaps in my collection, primarily the years preceding my first VCR.

The trades would eventually lead to both dubs and acquisitions of entire collections. By 2016 the number of incomplete shows had shrunk to around twenty-five. By the end of 2017, the Late Night collection had finally reached 100%. I had every show, all complete.

There are many folks to thank for helping me complete the collection. Some prefer to remain anonymous for now, but I hope in time they’ll be ok with my acknowledging how crucial they were. Among the major contributors I can name:

Christopher Bay (videotapes from 1977–93), Jim Chamberlain (1982–83), Dario Roaz (1982–83), Treg Tyler (1982–88), Laura Ryan (1985–89), Lisa Gilliam (1987–93), and Deborah Todd (1989–93). Among those with smaller but no less important contributions: Bill Rood, Bill Bredice, Richard Handal, Traci Gilland, Mitch Blank, Michael Covher, Ray Mitten, Dick Bullock, John Czach, Wyatt Clough, Keith McLeod, Ken Dixon, Jeff Kadet, and Cheryl Bulbach.


When Late Show ended in May 2015, my tape collection had been scattered throughout various locations in the apartment. Many were inaccessible, with immovable “stuff” blocking them. There were thousands of tapes in the back room and thousands more in the front. The back room was where all of the Late Nights were stored; here’s a photo from 2011 of one area. It wasn’t a welcome sight:


It was in the late Spring to early Summer of 2015 when several moments occurred that helped me begin to better appreciate what I had accumulated over the past three decades. The first involved one of Dave’s producers. She was still working after Late Show had ended — the only remaining staffer employed — and she was then dealing with payments to folks who were in video clips that had aired on CBS’s Letterman special a week before his final show. Because the documentation was lacking, it was left for her to track down the show dates for those clips, and there were several she couldn’t find.

So she asked me for help, and I was happy to oblige. It took around a week, but eventually I found the show dates to which the clips were attached. I soon realized that the reason she had asked me in the first place was because there was no longer anyone on staff she would normally assign for this sort of task. I was the only person she knew who would have had the resources readily available.

During the same period I gained access into Worldwide Pants’ licensing site, where Dave’s Late Shows were made available for licensing to media interests. I spent all of June and July inspecting each show, finding a number of problems: mismatched thumbnails, missing shows, and corrupt uploads. I made a list and sent it to the Late Show producer, and she then forwarded it to those managing the site, referring to me as someone who “had the time to do what I haven’t been able to do.”

Again, the resources she would have normally had during Late Show’s run — a full staff — was now absent, and so it was for me to figure this stuff out, on my time, on my dime. There was simply no one else around. It was a new self-awareness of value I hadn’t recognized before, and it planted a seed.


The other event during the 2015 late-Spring/Summer period: On June 10, Adam Nedeff, game show historian/author/expert/producer, posted a photo on his Facebook page: it was packets of Late Night and Late Show DVDs he had digitized from his own collection (posted here with his permission):

I was thoroughly impressed by his organizing prowess to hit the “Like” button to his photo. Adam’s reaction: “I like that Don Giller clicked ‘like’ when I know what he’s really thinking is ‘Aww, three cases. that’s cute.'”

He could not have known then that my own Letterman digital collection had been near-nonexistent; I had digitized practically nothing. And the thought of beginning such a project was daunting and laughable, considering the chaotic state of my storage.

Four days later, Adam approached me online and solicited a trade of Letterman-related DVDs. He had been looking for the 90-minute Late Nights that had aired on a nearly-monthly basis in 1982, then less frequently in 1983. I said let’s do it, partly because I had stored most of those particular tapes in the front room, not the back, and so the chore of cleaning everything up in the back could be postponed.

I spent some time setting up my VCR–>DVD equipment, finding the computer software needed to convert DVDs to video files, digging out the tapes, and getting to work.

The trade concluded late summer, and from that exercise, along with the potential value I had begun to sense months earlier with the Late Show producer, I finally got the itch to start what I had been dreading. First, I cleaned up the back room area:

I then set up the computer directories:

With that in place, I began to digitize the Late Night tape collection in earnest in September 2015. My first progress photo from late November documented the first six months of 1982:

Two weeks later I had reached the end of ’82:

Keep in mind that at this time I was missing many complete shows for the first three years of Late Night (1982-84), so what I had digitized here was only what I had, not what I needed. Eventually, all of the complete shows would find their way here, and they would all be incorporated into the digitized collection.

By late January 2016, 1983 (or, rather, what I had of 1983 at the time) was done. Here’s 1982–’83:

Early-April 2016, to the end of 1984:

All the while, each DVD had been converted to a computer .mp4 file and all of those files backed up onto other drives.

Early-June 2016, the DVDs up to the end of 1985:

Mid-September 2016, everything up to 1986:

I was running out of shelf space, so I emptied my CD cabinet and moved all of the Late Night DVDs there.

Late-February 2017, 1987 was completed:

Mid-May 2017, 1988 went quickly, thanks to the months-long writers strike:

Mid-October 2017, the DVD collection up to the end of 1989:

After months of delays, and, in the meantime, digitizing hundreds of shows from later years, 1990 was finally completed a year later in late November 2018:

Because I had already digitized many shows earlier, 1991 was finished just a month later in late December 2018:

And 1992 quickly followed in mid-January 2019:


On January 18, 2019, 1993 was done, and with that milestone reached I finally finished digitizing and converting to computer video files the entire eleven-plus-year run of Late Night with David Letterman. It was all backed up onto this mobile drive:

It’s taken three years and four months. Every show is now just a mouse-click away:

There remain duplicate shows from ’89 to ’93 to digitize from other sources. The reason for the redundancy: one video source may have a glitch that another source can then be inserted in its place, the ease of digital editing at the home level unthinkable when Late Night premiered in ’82. So while all of Late Night is done, there’s more digitizing ahead before the project is fully wrapped up.


Throughout this project, the persistent question had been “Why? Why were you doing this?” The answer was the realization brought to light in the Summer of 2015: No one else was. And so there was no option not to.

It’s conceivable that this is the only collection of its kind. There’s reason to suspect that not even NBCU’s archives have as many shows, and what they do have, very little has been digitized. (March 1, 2020 — I’ve recently learned that it’s worse than I thought: There are years of Late Nights in NBCU’s archives that, because of the videotape format used, are unlikely to ever be playable again.)

So here we are. The next chapter awaits.

Update. A chronicle of my Letterman databases is here: https://donzblog.home.blog/2019/09/26/my-letterman-databases/


Lastly, a plug: I have a You Tube channel that’s devoted mostly to Late Night uploads. Over 1,100 videos are up; they include selected segments, full shows, and comedy and guest compilations. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/user/dongiller

71 thoughts on “My Late Night with David Letterman History

  1. Great work – I remember back around 2005 a small cable network was airing Late Night reruns – so the NBC collection was at least in some decent shape then but who knows what was digitized.

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    1. Yeah, that was Trio, which no longer exists. The shows they aired were a small portion of what E! had aired late-’93 to mid-’96. And E! had aired A&E’s syndicated run (1991-92) before they added more from NBC’s archives. E! aired LN’s 6th anniversary special from an unfinished version of the show that was evidently sent by mistake by NBC.
      No idea if any of these shows had been digitized at the time.

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  2. Amazing! This is bigger than just a hobby. This is history you’re preserving. I’ve been a Dave die-hard viewer since 1988 and the two funniest things I remember watching from LN: A May ’91 episode where a guy held up a live cat and made it dance to “Memory” and a May ’99 CBS mail segment where they cooked Jar-Jar Binks on the barbecue. Neither available online. God, I hope to see these again one day

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  3. I’m excited and scared for you. Has anyone mentioned that DVD-R can fail after a few years? The dyes are unstable. Might want to consider a data tape solution (minimum 30 year shelf life). Late Show question for you: What is the tune that the band plays when the Hello Deli Deli Platter is brought out? (as there are no losers)

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    1. I’ve had excellent luck with DVD-R discs. And I’ve converted all content to .mp4 files and backed them up as well.
      I’ll get back to you re the Platter theme.

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      1. Thanks for your help! I made the switch to tape after losing ~10 years of vacation photos carefully stored on top-brand optical media in a cool, dark room. 2nd copy on hard disk (spun up every 6 months and migrated to new drives every 3 years)/cloud is as good.

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  4. This is amazing! I wonder if you take requests for you Youtube channel…my best friend and I – then all of 16 years old – took a trip to NYC (from Chicago) in April of 1982 and were lucky enough to score tickets for the April 12, 1982 show (Mark Goodson was one of the guests). I’ve always wanted to see it again because my friend and I were seated in the first row (of the middle section, I believe) and were clearly visible when they did a segment using audience members. And here’s a bit of trivia I can share: Dave got a fair way through the monologue when he was stopped by Hal. Turns out there was a technical problem and they needed to start the show again. I remember Dave saying that it was the first time it had happened.

    Either way, thanks for the uploads – so much fun to watch and relive.

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    1. Let me have your email address and I’ll send you a screen capture of that front row. (I’d attach it here, but it looks like that’s not doable.)

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  5. Amazing work, Don! I watch and enjoy your videos often and am a grateful Letterman fan. I guess you didn’t take similar pains with The Late Show… (How could you? You need space to live!)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is amazing and impressive and obsessive and everything I love about human beings! Thank you for your dedication sir. I have been looking for a segment I missed in 1984, specifically 6/21/1984 Meyer Reiswerg, who I knew and who was a fixture in Galveston for many years.

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      1. Let me know if I can ever return the favor. I work in a big used book music and movie store so I’ll be happy to keep an eye out if you’re looking for anything.

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  7. This is an amazing endeavor. But the original Late Night is worth obsessing over. I didn’t have a TV in my room but I snuck out to the den every night for Dave. The one that still makes me laugh hardest is a desk bit with Dave and Paul swapping stories. Dave was talking about Good Morning America with “Charlie Gibbons” and Joan Lunden. He told a story about the weather guy on GMA making a joke about it being “berry, berry cold” and Joan laughing far too hard and far too long and needing an injection at the base of her skull. I guess it was probably 1990 or 1991 but I told the gag to all my friends at high school next morning and no one thought it was funny. Philistines.

    Hey, you deserve thanks. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. What?! Don! You’re amazing! Some sort of…of…Late Night clip wish-granting genie!!! Is there a way to support this fantastic endeavor besides simply saying thank you over and over?

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    1. Dirty DonZ After Dark Collection™ (For Ladies Only!) One other question: Do you remember a bit where Dave and Paul go into the hall outside 6A and there’s what appears to be an Amish guy with a busted wagon looking for help? Dave and Paul lend a hand, repairing the wagon wheel only to realize that the Amish guy’s lifted their wallets and is running away down the hall, so one or both of them pulls out a gun and shoots the guy?

      Help me, Don Giller. You’re my only hope. I mean, not my ONLY hope but this one feels like it’s right in your wheelhouse.

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      1. Cold Close at the end of the August 26, 1988, show. Shown again at the end of the 7th Anniversary show, aired February 2, 1989; taped January 23.

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    1. It’s important to me to tell you what an amazing resource you are, Don. Seriously. Your ungodly dedication to preserving one of the great cultural treasures of our time is awe-inspiring. Not only the simple fact of ALL of those VHS tapes, all of those shows, and the work put into transferring them all into the digital realm, but your archival skills and knowledge humble me. I tell people I’m a David Letterman fan. It speak airily of Merrill Markoe and Steve O’Donnell. Of the Guy Under the Seats and Studio 6A. But I feel like such a neophyte compared to you, and yet also so grateful that you exist! That you had the obsessive determination to carry this mammoth project through.

      So hey, from a Late Night fan in Kansas City, thank you. So very, very much. I know you hear it a lot from other fans. Just add this one to the pile, I guess.

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  8. Don, we have corresponded a bit on YouTube, but this blog fills in the blanks. What an amazing operation you have there, giving us Letterman fans a treasure trove to enjoy. And I have for a few years now.

    I was a fan before the morning show, but couldn’t hack the move to CBS. Not the same show. Honestly, I give Steve O’Donnell most of the credit for making the NBC show what it was. Last night, I was watching your Etiquette compilation, laughing myself into tears. The wife came upstairs, wondering what all of the commotion was.

    I thank you again for what you have done, and yes, you are a hero. Television is more of a wasteland than ever, and I avoid it like the plague. You have brought back what I once enjoyed. Take care of yourself, and that collection.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Incredible Work, Don. Is there anything that you’re missing? I may still have some of the morning shows on vhs. My request is anything from the Museum of the Hard to Believe. (sorry if it is already on youtube and/or I just can’t find it) I got a hankerin’ for some Dapper Cheese!

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  10. Hi Don,

    Now that Letterman is off air I find myself watching and searching for content more and more. I particularly love the Teri Garr appearances. What you have achieved is simply amazing. Really they should be paying you for what you do because this is all we have now and it’s amazing. Keep up the good work.

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  11. Don, have thanked you before for these clips. Have been a fan of Dave’s since Late Night years, and love having the clips to reminisce! And thanks again for letting me see my Viewer Mail from mid-80’s!

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  12. Don, your work is amazing and I highly appreciate the fact that you are sharing all this valued material. It has been wonderful going back in time, watching your recordings of the Shows. I always tried to not miss the show so much of your footage took me back to the time I watched it, while other was a pleasant surprise to watch for the first time. Thank you so much for this!

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  13. This is absolutely incredible work. About 15 years ago I started digitizing and logging all the old Late Night VHS tapes I recorded when I was a kid, and it was an exhausting task. I’m so glad that God put you on this Earth to do what you’ve done, because as you correctly mentioned, nobody else would have done it.

    But please, PLEASE tell me that you have your digitized archives redundantly backed up “offsite” in another physical location (or better yet in a cloud backup solution like Amazon Glacier)? When you mentioned that you had everything backed up on that “Mobile drive”, it gave me heart palpitations knowing just how unreliable those cheap drives can be. And if your apartment, god forbid, burns down or is burglarized, it would be a tragic loss of Alexandrian proportions of redundant backups of all your hard work didn’t also exist in another physical location for safe keeping.

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  14. Hey Don, I’ve been trying to find the 12/21/90 episode where Dave reads my letter on viewer mail (the Cher postcard). I searched your youtube channel and didn’t find it, but do you have it lying around somewhere?

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    1. Hi, Randy — I checked out the 12/21/90 Viewer Mail segments. The letter writers were Jason Hirschfield, Dirk Freuwing, Bubba Bernstein, and Dave Null. Your name didn’t come up, nor was there anything on Cher.
      I then searched all “Cher” references in all Viewer Mails, and none of them included your name.
      So I’m at a loss.
      Don

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      1. Thanks for checking on that! I wonder if my friend got the date wrong. Perhaps it is the week before or after? My name, “Randy Budnikas” is pretty unique. Perhaps it was on another date? I’m not sure how fancy your database querying can be, but “Budnikas” (if spelled correctly by them) would be a single hit!

        I really truly appreciate this! It’s been a dream of mine to finally see this viewer mail segment. You are helping me check off a bucket list item! Thank you Don!

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      2. I appreciate you spending time on this! There’s a chance the year is wrong. It could have been 12/20/1991 (give or take a week) or 12/18/1992 (give or take a week)

        Is this a pain for you to look up?

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      3. The postcard was a picture of Cher, but he went somewhere completely different with it, which I’m glad because his idea was more funny than mine.

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  15. Don, I’ve been a huge fan of your YouTube channel for quite some time and I have just stumbled across your blog this evening, the amount of dedication here has almost brought me to tears (of joy).

    I’m only 23, and from Australia, so my exposure to Dave was very limited (LS was on free-to-air for the entirety of its run, on 2 of the major networks; and LN started airing on Cable/Pay TV in the early 2000s). I have been obsessed with the late night landscape since 2009 (Tonight Show debacle lighted that fire), and your archives have brought nothing but cognisance, and joy.

    Thank you for all your time and effort, we’re all indebted.

    (If you find a spare minute or two, I’ve been unable to find an appearance of Larry King’s (almost certain it was LN, can still see the backdrop in my mind). King sits down, Letterman asks him a question abruptly about the Olympics or something, then King says “Are you mocking me?”. I remember this being very amusing but I have not seen the clip since, and have seen all other King appearances available online. Again, only if you have a spare minute, you’d be able to put this long search to rest.)

    Cheers Don!

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