5. 'Late Show With David Letterman' (CBS)
Talk about a killer endgame. During the final weeks of David Letterman's reign, he was actually giving a shit, as if he suddenly needed to remind us all (and himself) why he mattered in the first place. Every night was a trip — Bill Murray popping out of a cake, Tina Fey modeling Spanx, George Clooney handcuffing himself to Dave, Tom Waits and Cher and Bob Dylan. Plus Steve Martin declaring, "Your extensive plastic surgery was a necessity and a mistake." After years of nobody paying attention to this franchise, not even Dave, it was a bracing climax.
The final minutes of the last show summed it all up: The Foo Fighters playing "Everlong" over an astonishingly elaborate, emotionally powerful six-minute montage of Letterman moments. It was all anyone could talk about for days, because it was a crash course in how he transformed American culture — he made his late-night chat show a refuge for the weirdest and wildest, without pretending to be weird or wild himself. The man made you notice the all-American freakery around you, sending you back to your daylight world with fresh eyes, appreciating all the Larry "Bud" Melmans and Andy Kaufmans and Sandra Bernhards in your everyday life. Good night and thanks, Dave.