Welcome to the first week with no Late Show With David Letterman. If you tune in to CBS at Letterman’s old time-period Tuesday night, you’ll be treated to a rerun of The Mentalist. If you still crave Letterman, you should check out head writer Bill Scheft’s inside-info Tumblr blog about the final shows. For another kind of Letterman fix — well, I’ve been thinking: I missed seeing one guest in particular during Letterman’s final shows, and so I’m giving you my own Late Show production: “The Best of Charles Grodin.”
Grodin made some great appearances on Letterman’s show. This was especially true after the actor-writer hit upon a persona that suited him so well, it became a piece of periodic performance art: Whenever he came on, Grodin became immediately irritated by Letterman — or at least acted as though he was. Here he is getting annoyed with Letterman in 1990 for getting the title wrong of a play that Grodin had written. He actually makes a stabbing gesture to indicate the pain he feels Letterman is inflicting upon him. They also discuss — or argue about — the Grodin-Robert DeNiro cult film Midnight Run. Oh, and Letterman calls him “psychotic.”
Back in 1983, Letterman did a show ostensibly from his home — he maintained he was waiting for the cable guy to come and install service. Thus, he interviews Grodin via a remote connection: Grodin is sitting on Letterman’s set, talking to the air, basically.
Things got heated enough between Letterman and Grodin that the actor brought out a lawyer to sit with him, while Grodin explained he planned to sue Letterman for libel. Grodin later said the attorney was “a burlesque comic” he’d hired, which doesn’t make the appearance any less funny.
I could go on. My question is: Why wasn’t Grodin on during Letterman’s final weeks? I mean, I get it: When you run a talk show, you have to be ruthless. Guests sometimes just run their course — they don’t have much more to give you, after a certain point. And Letterman’s bookers, just like those at other shows, have to decide — in collusion with the host — who’ll continue to appear and who’ll get put out to that show’s pasture.
If I hadn’t seen Grodin’s excellent recent appearances on Louie, playing a grumpy doctor, I’d have thought he may have gone into semi-retirement. But there he is on FX, looking good and doing fine work. Maybe Letterman just got tired of Grodin’s schtick? Still, it’s one of those little mysteries that will continue to make David Letterman’s show an enduring source of wonders grand and small, important and exceedingly trivial, to me. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.