Watch Paul Shaffer Talk 'Late Show,' Letterman's Genius - Rolling Stone
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Watch Paul Shaffer Talk ‘Late Show,’ David Letterman’s Genius

Bandleader talks three decades of casually revolutionizing late night TV in exclusive ‘100 Greatest TV Shows’ video

As the bandleader for David Letterman during his tenures on both Late Night and Late Show, Paul Shaffer’s become a fixture of television history on par with The Simpsons‘ couch or the bar from Cheers. The late-night icon stopped by the Rolling Stone offices for an exclusive “100 Greatest TV Shows” video interview, in which he looks back on the far-reaching influence that he and Letterman had on their medium.

“Dave certainly changed the talk show format,” Shaffer says. “It’s a lot like when a musician has his own sound — it’s his sound and his style, you can recognize it anywhere. Nobody else had it, everybody else started doing it — Fallon, Kimmel, Conan, all of whom I’m friendly with and all of whom say how much of what they do is influenced by Dave. To them, it was like when I was listening to the Beatles … that’s how Dave was to these people.”

But Shaffer grew into a star in his own right, instantly recognizable by his hep-cat sunglasses and flashy fashions. “I can look back and say I think I was the first guy to bring rock and roll and a looser sensibility to the music one was going to hear on television,” Shaffer says.

In recent years, the bandleader position has become a badge of cool cred for musicians that might not have touched the job as recently as a decade earlier. “I allow myself to be a little bit proud,” Shaffer says, “and think that some of these guys might not have even considered doing [TV] — the Roots, Reggie [Watts] — these people have their own careers in music, and they’ve turned to television. And I have a feeling they’re having a lot of fun doing it.”


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