David Letterman spent 33 years reinventing late night television. Other hosts may have used sharper monologues or a greater political focus, but Letterman was the guy who re-imagined what audiences and creators expected from a chat show. After one episode, it looks like his newest Netflix series may be his newest revolution.
Streamed on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction is a monthly talk show that is constructed around extended interviews and field bits. The initial episode was released on January 12, featuring Barack Obama’s first interview in America since leaving office. It was a mutual first glimpse of two men who are now free from their previous restrictions. The debut also featured a segment with Congressman John Lewis.
Letterman was always one of the sharpest interviewers on television, but he is no longer constrained by five and ten-minute conversations that are interrupted by commercials. The freedom of this new format allowed Letterman to flash between his interview with Obama, footage of civil rights demonstrations, and a segment in which he walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with Lewis. Letterman also made a profound confession of remorse to Obama, noting with regret that he was partying on a cruise ship in April 1965 merely a month after Lewis marched in Selma.
The result of the production allowed for an amazing presentation of history. We have already witnessed one of the most powerful hours of television in 2018 just twelve days into the new year.
Obama was engaging throughout the interview. He not only provided refreshing answers, but indicated early on that he was willing to trade barbs with Letterman. The former president made fun of Letterman’s “biblical beard” and his own inability to put a four-piece lamp together. He also provided an intriguing perspective on his wife’s evolution as First Lady, racism, and social media’s influence on politics and news.
In addition to the historical and social talking points, the style of the episode made for compelling television. Being able to weave Lewis and Obama’s segments together added an incredible layer to the hour that is not possible on Letterman’s former medium of broadcast television. The episode was filmed in front of an audience at New York City’s Marian Anderson Theatre. At times, it was a little ambiguous as to who was actually conducting the interview; Obama also had several questions for the television host, which made the show seem like less of an interview than a conversation between the two men.
Obama is obviously more complex than your typical talk show guest, but the program still went above and beyond what a normal presidential interview entails. Letterman’s next guest is actor George Clooney. From any perspective, Clooney’s interview is likely to be less compelling than a former president. With that in mind, the initial burst of guests feature an array of interesting people from different walks of life. Jay-Z, Tina Fey, Howard Stern, and Pakistani Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai are also scheduled to appear on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.
Regardless of politics, Letterman’s interview with Obama and Congressman John Lewis was captivating and indicated that his new show could be something extraordinary.
Letterman has a gift for creating frank and enjoyable dialogue that allows his conversations to be intelligent and accessible for a wide audience. With My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Letterman has a rare opportunity to create one of the most dynamic interview programs on television. Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart are the only other mass media figures who have retained the respect of their audiences over a similar period of time.
An infrequent show presented by a host of his magnitude allows him to create a series of in-depth interviews that are produced in an interesting way. The 70-year-old no longer has to fill five shows a week and Netflix appears to have granted him a blank slate. He can handpick guests that may no longer be coming to promote a new project and create unique profiles. They may no longer be disinterested stars fulfilling their contractual obligations. Instead they are coming to talk with Dave.