Letterman hair piece



Keywords: television programs, television
Description: AS one of the first segments on ''Late Night With David Letterman,'' the new one-hour talk and variety show that made its debut on NBC- TV at 12:30 A.M. yesterday, Mr. Letterman conducted a guided tour o f the show's set. Wandering into what is commonly calledthe ''Green R oom'' - the room in which a show's guests sit and await their appearances - he found himself instead in a greenhou se, a veritable tropical garden filled with lush green flowering plants. Unfazed, Mr. Letterman surveyed his surroundings. ''These,'' he said ''are some of the very few vegetables here at NBC not in programming.''

AS one of the first segments on ''Late Night With David Letterman,'' the new one-hour talk and variety show that made its debut on NBC- TV at 12:30 A.M. yesterday, Mr. Letterman conducted a guided tour o f the show's set. Wandering into what is commonly calledthe ''Green R oom'' - the room in which a show's guests sit and await their appearances - he found himself instead in a greenhou se, a veritable tropical garden filled with lush green flowering plants.

Unfazed, Mr. Letterman surveyed his surroundings. ''These,'' he said ''are some of the very few vegetables here at NBC not in programming.''

It was just the sort of gently mocking line that makes Mr. Letterman so appealing, but it also had a personal resonance. Among the many unsuccessful programming moves made by NBC in recent years, the introduction 18 months ago of a 90-minute morning talk show with Mr. Letterman as host ranks near the top.

Mr. Letterman's show bombed in the audience-popularity ratings, was canceled after just four months and left NBC with a problem in its daytime schedule from which it has still not recovered. Nonetheless, Mr. Letterman himself won extraordinary critical plaudits, and many people felt that the young comedian's fast-paced, faintly off-thewall style was ill suited to a morning audience not yet revved up for the day. NBC remained sufficiently high on Mr. Letterman to sign him to an exclusive $600,000-a-year contract until it found a new place to use his talents.

The postmidnight hour is the slot NBC finally carved out - replacing Tom Snyder's ''Tomorrow'' and following Johnny Carson's ''The Tonight Show.'' Indeed, Mr. Letterman's style is much in the tradition of Mr. Carson's. Both are boyishly handsome, cleancut Middle Western fellows -Nebraska in Mr. Carson's case and Indiana in Mr. Letterman's - turned just slightly naughty in the big city.

Mr. Letterman used his first show, in his understated fashion, to poke gentle fun at the classic talk and variety format that Mr. Carson has helped make so successful. ''Late Night'' began with an absurdly extravagant number by the Rainbow Grill Dancing Ensemble - six showgirls parading about in huge green-feathered headdresses. Mr. Letterman's first guest was Bill Murray, a former ''Saturday Night Live'' star - decidedly un-showbizzy (and unresplendent) in a ratty cardigan sweater, open-neck shirt and disheveled hair.

Unfortunately, the satire was so understated - and Mr. Letterman himself remained so determinedly in the background - that the show lacked some of the excitement and brashness one might have wished for. Mr. Letterman's presence grows out of his quickness with quips, but he seemed too willing this time to play the straight man.

Given center stage, Mr. Murray promptly launched into a rambling monologue apparently intended as a parody of the typical trivial talk show chatter between host and guest. But the premise was stretched far too thinly, undercutting even the impact of Mr. Murray's funniest moment - a spastic ''aerobic'' dance routine performed while singing Olivia Newton-John's ''Let's Get Physical.''

The other guest was Don Herbert -better known as ''Mr. Wizard,'' a gentle man who was a big hit in the 50's conducting science experiments for young viewers, Mr. Letterman apparently among them. But what began as an amusing piece of nostalgia lost its bite by the time Mr. Herbert had soberly run through his third scientific experiment.

Mr. Letterman was much more effective when he took charge. He has a gift for getting great mileage out of apparently trivial situations, and one of the best segments on the show was a filmed report titled ''Shame of the City.'' Prowling the New York streets - itself a refreshing change from studiobound, Los Angeles-based talk shows - Mr. Letterman uncovered a delicatessen with a sign in the window that read 'Planing a Party, Try one of Theese.'' Collaring one of the establishment's employees, Mr. Letterman extracted a promise that the misspellings would soon be corrected. ''Truly,'' he concluded, face to the camera in sonorous local-news reporter style ''a shame of the city.''

While Mr. Letterman's first effort was uneven, it seems fair to assume that the show will need time to hit its stride. Mr. Letterman's style is low-key and laid back - there is none of Steve Martin's physical outrageousness, or even Mr. Carson's flinty political edge - and so he is more of an acquired taste than most comedians. Indeed, it's worth remembering that back when Mr. Letterman was doing his morning show, it was several weeks before he relaxed into the loopy informality that makes him so whimsically and unpredictably appealing.






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