Watch David Letterman's First 'Late Night' Episode - Rolling Stone
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Watch David Letterman’s First ‘Late Night’ Episode

Letterman’s bizarre, unforgettable late-night debut features Bill Murray as first guest

David Letterman will bid farewell to his Late Show tonight with a surprise-filled (and Foo Fighters-featuring) finale, but before the late-night legend says goodbye to airwaves, take 45 minutes to remember Letterman at the onset of his 33-year career. Decider unearthed Letterman’s incredible debut episode of his Late Night NBC program from February 1, 1982, which featured guests Bill Murray and Donald “Mr. Wizard” Herbert.

The episode opened up with actor Calvert DeForest, or Larry “Bud” Melman as he was known on the show, delivering a spooky prologue inspired by actor Edward Van Sloan’s introduction for the 1931 film Frankenstein. Next, dancers wearing giant peacock headdresses sauntered around the stage as bandleader Paul Shaffer announced, his voice almost cracking from laughter, “From New York, one of the most exciting cities in the tri-state area, it’s Late Night With David Letterman.” After a lengthy wait, Letterman finally emerged from behind the peacock feathers.

After a humorous tour through the NBC Studios, Letterman then welcomed his first-ever guest, Bill Murray; remarkably, Letterman spoke the same exact introduction word-for-word when bringing out Murray on Late Show‘s penultimate episode, right down to the Where the Buffalo Roam mention. The chemistry between the late-night host and the actor is instantaneous and hints at a friendship that would make for can’t-miss television in the decades that follow. (Murray’s rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” is also amazing to behold.)

In addition to the Murray interview, we’re also treated to many of those odd moments that separated Letterman from his peers and made him such a favorite among the next generation of late-night hosts: An ongoing gag after each commercial break broke down the many ways to weld metal; later, Letterman takes a stroll around New York to criticize misspelled signs. Letterman even makes a 15-minute science lesson with Mr. Wizard exceedingly entertaining (and dirty). The legend might be leaving late night, but at least his legacy lives online.


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