Transitions can be difficult. Goodbyes can be heart-wrenching. They don’t even have to be connected to a tragic event like a death or a divorce. Sometimes, when circumstances change, for whatever reason, people come and go from our lives. Everyone involved has to learn how to adjust.
For me personally, there have been a number of tough transitions recently. And even though none of them involve people I’m close to, or even people I’ve actually met, these transitions have been painful.
I was very sad to have to say goodbye to one of my favorite TV series, FX’s Justified, a few weeks ago. After six seasons, Mark and I had both grown very fond of what I consider one of the best ensemble casts ever to populate a TV series. The show brought us a wealth of good guys vs. bad guys, steeped in the rich southern flavor of rural Kentucky. Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens was full of dry wit and no-nonsense toughness, and he was balanced along the way by his on-screen nemesis Boyd Crowder, a soft-spoken, charming, and intelligent anti-hero. Actor Walton Goggins brought Boyd to life, portraying a man you knew was dangerous, but who you rooted for just the same.
The supporting cast was also stellar, the writing was always sharp and witty (the series was based on characters from several books and short stories by Elmore Leonard), and the story arcs spanned each season smoothly. Justified may be one of the few series I’ve ever watched from start to finish which never lost its clever dialogue or first-rate performances, nor did it resort to far-fetched plot lines, as so many series do. Justified always stayed its course.
Fortunately, there are a multitude of things to watch on television. And of course, through the magic of Netflix or Amazon, or even DVD, I can always revisit my friends in Harlan County again someday. But late nights are a different story.
Even with plenty of time to brace myself for the impact, I’m still not over the recent losses there.
It began last year, with a one-two punch from my two favorite late-night hosts. Dave Letterman, long-time late-night veteran, and a personal hero of mine, announced in the early days of April 2014 that he would be retiring sometime this spring. And if that wasn’t depressing enough, just a few weeks later, The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson announced that he, too, would be leaving the airwaves by the end of 2014.
This news just crushed me. But at the time, neither host had set a firm departure date, so I put their announcements out of my mind and kept on watching. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I would think about it another day. As the months went by, and summer turned to fall, I made more of an effort to stay up later than I should to catch both shows.
I tried to absorb as much of Craig Ferguson’s just-raunchy-enough-for-TV humor, knowing it wouldn’t be around much longer. I loved his sidekick, Geoff Peterson, the gay robot skeleton. I admit I wasn’t too gung-ho for this character at first. The premise seemed completely ridiculous, but the schtick grew on me. The rapport between host and sidekick (voiced by actor/comedian Josh Robert Thompson) was very real and they always made it work.
I loved that Craig came out every night, tossed candy to the live audience, and rapped on the side of the camera while the theme music played. I loved that Secretariat the horse (two still-unidentified crew members in a very poorly fitted horse costume) got his own stable when the show moved to a bigger set in 2012. I loved Tweets and Emails. I loved the hand puppets, and the running gag mistaking Sir Paul McCartney for actress Angela Lansbury. The show always made me laugh raucously, often to the point of frightening my sleeping cats, or nearly rousting Mark out of a sound slumber.
Craig Ferguson signed off, in what was thankfully a very upbeat and funny show, on Dec. 19th, 2014. And I still miss him. And Geoff. And that damn goofy faux horse. I’m trying hard to give TLLS’s new host, James Corden, time to grow on me. I’m sure he will. But he seems to be aiming for a slightly younger audience. I don’t know that I fit the demographic. Time will tell.
The worst of all, of course, was Dave Letterman’s departure. A staple of late night for 33 years, Dave appealed to me because he made ordinary and mundane things funny. He has a self-deprecating humor that I appreciate. And he’s snarky and sarcastic, as I tend to be. I get Dave’s brand of funny.
Mark and I didn’t become Letterman fans until he made the move to CBS in 1993, and moved to the 10:30 PM time slot, but we were quick to be hooked. Dave took over the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, and quickly began to wander the neighborhood. He invaded all the local businesses – Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli, and Sirajul and Mujibur’s souvenir shop. He sent a Guy in a Bear Suit all over the neighborhood, and sent an army of rabbits into an H & R Block one April 15th.
We learned about science during “Will It Float?” segments, and while Dave’s staff dropped all sorts of items off the roof. We saw humans and pets perform spectacularly stupid tricks. Alec Baldwin drove a snowmobile on the roof during one snowy winter appearance. Drew Barrymore bared her boobs as a birthday present to Dave one year. And each Christmas season, Jay Thomas showed up to tell stories and throw footballs, and Darlene Love sang Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).
It wasn’t just the guests, or the Top Ten lists, or the crazy shenanigans Dave and crew got up to. The Late Show was a constant source of great music. Not just Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, who brought their A game every night. No, there’s a long list of terrific musical performers I may never have found, had Dave Letterman not introduced me to them.
St. Vincent. The Civil Wars. Alabama Shakes. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. Lenny Kravitz. Hozier. Sturgill Simpson. Frank Turner.
Oh, and one other band I may have mentioned.
They’re not just my favorite band; Foo Fighters are clearly a favorite band of Dave’s. The band made its television debut on Letterman’s show in 1995, and appeared many times in the next two decades, including a week-long visit last October while promoting Sonic Highways.
In the weeks leading up to the final Late Show, I had a feeling the band would be back. So their appearance on the finale May 20th was not surprising, but perfectly fitting, and for me, a great comfort. Seeing the usually casual Foos decked out in tuxedos for this occasion put a lump in my throat, as did the final photo montage, accompanied by an extended version of Everlong. If it had to end, and of course, all good things eventually do, The Late Show ended on a high note.
Bravo, Dave Letterman, bravo! And thanks.