All posts by Matthew Callan

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Hang A Crooked Number: Now Worth Nothing

Today marks the start of another Mets season. To celebrate the occasion, for a limited time you can join another lost cause at minimal cost. Which is to say, no cost. From March 31 through April 4, Hang A Crooked Number is on sale at Amazon for the considerable markdown of 100 percent. If I’ve done my math right, that means it’s free. As in, zero dollars. And zero cents.

If you’ve missed/ignored my many posts about this novel since it came out last year, this is Hang A Crooked Number in a nutshell:

Backstop lives a double life, and both are crumbling. He is a minor league catcher and an operative in training for The Moe Berg Society, a secret intelligence group that uses baseball as a front for its spy work. The mysterious disappearance of Backstop’s fellow trainee, Mark, has plunged him into a career-threatening slump. He gets one last chance at redemption when his handler asks him to investigate a connection between rumors of a mole and The Scouts, a faction of old-school spies hell-bent on seizing leadership of The Society. Backstop’s mission is complicated by his new roommate, The Swing, an aging slugger working on a major league comeback, and by Brooke, a tenacious reporter who suspects Backstop holds the key to her investigation into Mark’s disappearance. With one eye on his plummeting batting average and the other on the mounting casualties of his mission, Backstop attempts to unravel a conspiracy that could change the game forever before he unravels himself.

I know many people believe that spending money for anything on the internet is an affront to their human rights. Such folks contend that their function as consumers is so important that it is above such piddling concerns as paying people who make the things they consume. Under normal circumstances, I’m not inclined to encourage such beliefs. But I would also like people to know that Hang  A Crooked Number exists, and one way to do that is to give it out for free. There are other ways to do this, but they involve the spending of money that my family insists is better spent on shoes and rent. So, free it is.

I recognize that people who don’t want to pay for things on the internet also don’t like it when they’re asked to do anything on the internet. (I’m not sure what these people do like to do, other than scream that video games are art and tell other people to die in fires on Twitter.) However, if you choose to download this book that I worked on for years and you find you enjoy it, I ask that you at least consider giving the book a few stars on its Amazon page. And if you’re feeling really generous, maybe leave a nice review. Stars and reviews mean a lot to Amazon, so the more you leave, the more often my book comes up in searches for other books and hammocks and whatever the hell else Amazon sells. Damned if I can figure it out, but Bezos works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

Thanks.

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The Unbearable Heaviness of Slog

David H. Samson sits at a large oak desk in his cavernous office, stabbing fitfully at a freshly chopped salad with a plastic fork. The walls around him are lined with posters from the innumerable hit television shows he has created, shelves bowing under the weight of all the awards he has received, countless picture frames containing photos of him being embraced by celebrities, politicians, and royalty. But Samson is only here in spirit. His true vision is locked on the next great project that will occupy his fevered brain, even if, to the casual observer, it appears his gaze is on the small, viscous disk glistening on the end of his fork.

“What is this, a water chestnut?” he asks. His perception of food is as impeccable as his perception what TV audiences crave. It is, in fact, a water chestnut. “Never liked these things.”

Samson has just returned from a meeting with a team of foreign producers who hoped to adapt his latest masterpiece, the groundbreaking serial drama Slog, for French television. The producers were effusive with their praise, comparing Samson to Paddy Chayevsky and Gandhi while occasionally genuflecting. But when the time came to get down to brass tacks, Samson found his view of Slog and those of his would-be suitors to be incompatible.

“Ever since the show debuted, I’ve made it clear Slog was conceived as a 27-season arc, with 7 made-for-TV movie events, 3 theatrical releases, a Broadway adaptation, an animated series, and an imposter fragrance,” Samson sighs, showing the strain of explaining this yet again to uncomprehending minds. “The French producers could not guarantee the animated series and seemed iffy on the fragrance. It betrayed a complete misunderstanding of what Slog is all about.”

And what is Slog all about, according to its creator? “It is about…misunderstanding.”

Samson has TV writing in his blood, thanks to being the only child of the legendary producing team of Samson and Delilly. (Contrary to internet rumors, he does not have TV in his blood due to an experimental medical procedure he received in Geneva.) His parents, David H. Samson, Sr. and Marcy Delilly, were the husband-and-wife team behind such beloved sitcoms as You Make The Call!, Curtains!, and Mad About Madge! Samson-Delilly shows were noted for their gentle family-centered humor and earworm theme songs, while the couple themselves were known for their tireless political advocacy and generous charity work.

“Those two were a fucking nightmare,” Samson says.

Despite his comedy parentage, Samson’s own writing tended toward the shadows, even at an early age. He sold his first spec script for Hill Street Blues at age 5, then later used recess periods in grade school to do punch-up work for Law & Order. He grabbed Hollywood’s attention when, at the tender age of 16,  he dropped out of high school to showrun the short-lived pitch-black drama The Enforcer.

“It’s still one of best projects I’ve ever been involved with,” Samson says with a sigh, The Enforcer‘s failure fraught with all the regret of a lost love. “I know it seems ridiculous to us now, but back in 1994, America simply wasn’t ready for a tormented street vigilante prone to violent outbursts played by Jamie Farr.”

Undeterred, Samson sold three of his own shows to the networks for the 1998 season. NBC bought Street Cops, a police drama with a Nietzsche-quoting antihero; CBS opted for The Bar, a legal procedural whose main character quoted Camus; and ABC launched Deep Cover, a cloak and dagger thriller with a spy who quoted both Nitezsche and Camus. Samson promised to write every episode of each series, a commitment some observers described as “crazy” and others called “seriously fucking crazy.”

“I couldn’t trust another person to carry out my vision,” Samson explains. “Would you trust another person with your children? Yes, parents let teachers watch their children all day. And day care workers. And afterschool programs and nannies too, I guess. What I’m saying is that my shows are more important than your children.”

Samson not only shepherded each show, but turned all of them into huge hits, despite a grueling schedule and the crippling hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation. At the 1999 Emmys, he became the first person to accept awards for three different series at the same ceremony while also staving off imaginary bat attacks.

For the next several years, Samson cranked out one show after another, each more lovingly received than the last. Many credit him for ushering in television’s golden era of tormented, bestubbled antiheroes wrestling with their demons and the moral implications of their decisions. “Before Samson, dramas were drawn in broad, good-vs.-evil  strokes,” says Matt Zoller Seitz. “Now, thanks to Samson, every character on TV is a huge asshole.”

“It’s hard to say what it is about Samson’s dark vision that works,” critic Tom Shales wrote back in 2004 upon the debut of Samson’s landmark biker gang series, The Devil’s Disciples. “I do know that whatever it is you get when you watch a Samson show, you get a lot of it.”

Never was this more true than in Samson’s crowning achievement, Slog. In order to devote 100 percent of his energies to Slog, the former multitasker put all other work on hold, even abandoning his labor of love, the troubled domestic drama Doll Houses, which only managed to run 173 episodes without him.

The result was a show Dave Itzkoff called “the reason humans were put on this planet. Go to your ancestors’ graves and laugh at them for not being alive to see Slog.” At the conclusion of the Slog‘s triumphant third season, Entertainment Weekly proclaimed, “We declare David H. Samson our new god. Worship him, infidels.”

Slog follows the trials and tribulations of Brad Derwood, a morally conflicted mob boss/doctor/stay-at-home dad who may be hiding a terrible secret. Each episode contains a small slice of Derwood’s endlessly fascinating life, whether that slice includes crushing a stool pigeons head with a wrench or simply waiting for his laundry to be done.

“If I didn’t capture every single moment of this character’s life, I would do a disservice to both him and the audience,” Samson said upon revealing that a future 12-episode arc would just be footage of Derwood asleep in bed.

Slog inspires fierce devotion among its devotees, thanks to its gripping storyline, and Samson’s insistence that true understanding of the show can only be achieved by watching it constantly, “to the exclusion of everything else in your life. If you think you understand it, then you’ve understood nothing. Go back and watch it again and again and again until none of it makes a bit of sense.” When recappers give an episode a less than glowing review, fans have been known to attack with harsh comments on the offending blogs, and also with baseball bats on the writers’ heads.

I ask Samson if he’s heard of the roving gangs of Slog fans who pummel anyone they suspect of never having seen the show, he smiles. “Legally, I can’t say I condone such behavior,” he says with a knowing wink. “But I can say that savage beatings are the sincerest form of flattery.”

There are a few spoilsports who dare rain on Slog‘s parade. Some critics charge that Slog too often veers into self indulgence, as in a recent episode comprised entirely of the protagonist sitting in a Pep Boys while waiting to get his car’s oil changed. Others say Samson’s whip-cracking style is needlessly hard on his actors.

“I demand a lot of everyone who works for me and I will not apologize for that,” Samson says. “I need everyone to keep focus and perspective and remember than making television is the most important job in the universe.”

Despite this, Samson has no comment on the charges that he forced series regular Bill Thompson to eat a brick on set. Accounts of the incident differ, but Thompson himself has refused comment, as his mouth is still wired shut.

Still others contend that the hyper-macho world he created for Slog leaves no room for women, and that he has never written roles for actresses that weren’t long-suffering wives, strippers, or murder victims. To this charge, Samson responds with a resounding, irrefutable, “Sure I have.” As an example, he names Lucinda, a prostitute featured in a two-episode storyline during season seven. “She dropped a cinder block on a pimp’s head. Gotta be pretty strong to do that.”

Can he name any others? “Not offhand, but the fact that I can’t proves I’m not a misogynist. If I was, I’d have preloaded examples in my brain to plead my case. This shows I’m not so sensitive.”

Samson is less annoyed by charges of sexism than by those who take issue with Slog‘s dramatic pace.  “I’ve even heard people say that Slog drags a bit for the first 90 episodes,” Samson mutters with a roll of the eyes. “To them I say, Of course it does. It was always intended to drag for the first 90, then have a sharp uptick for the next 20, then plateau for the following 15, then dip a bit for another 15, then get really bad for 10. Only then is the stage set for the series’ real action.”

“If I have to explain this,” he adds, “I’ve probably failed as a writer. But it’s more likely you’ve failed as a viewer.”

Even after creating a work of art of such unflinching mastery, Samson stares beyond his salad, pupils thrusting toward the next idea. “I have this vision,” he says, expelling the words in a rush, as if glad to unburden his mind of such weighty thoughts. “It comes to me only in glimpses, sometimes in the middle of the night. I reach to grab it and it slips from my hand. I don’t know how I can make this happen, I don’t know when or where, but I know someday I will bring this to life.”

“I really want to make a show about America’s most racist magician.”

Snow-Day

A Wintry Mix: Snow Days and the Parent-Child Time Gap

Mayor Bill de Blasio caught a lot of flack on Thursday for not closing schools in the face of an all-day snowstorm. He even raised the ire of the normally apolitical Al Roker, who horned in on Nate Silver’s turf by predicting de Blasio would be a one-termer for his shoddy response to the inclement weather.

The mayor’s office did a bad job of storm response, and an even worse job of handling criticism. However, his response pointed to an even bigger issue. Namely, that schools and municipal governments everywhere (not just New York City) have failed to evolve along with the changing needs of working families.

Once, it was more common for a family to have one breadwinner and one stay-at-home parent. This has not been the case in the majority of households for several decades. By 2007, there were three times as many households with two earners as households with just one. And that’s across America as a whole. It’s hard to find comparable stats for New York City, but the simple economics of living there require both adults in a two-parent household to work.

New York City tends to not shut down the school system because doing so induces a ripple effect that negatively impacts thousands of businesses, as workers are forced to stay home and watch their kids. The mayor’s response when criticized for leaving the schools open was clumsy at best; some of his assertions were straight up not true, like when he insisted the National Weather Service’s snow predictions underestimated the strength of the storm, which they did not. But de Blasio did one thing right when he pointed to the impact closing schools has on working parents as his primary reason for that decision.

However, the school system doesn’t work on the same schedule as most businesses. Most parents work 9 to 5 or 6, but schools close at 2:30, for seemingly no other reason than that’s when they’ve always closed, and because there used to be stay-at-home parents waiting to receive all these kids mid-afternoon.

For most parents, the childcare gap is occupied by afterschool programs. Some are run directly by the city; others are funded by city grants and run by community organizations. These provide a vital service for working families, especially for low-income households that can apply for such services at low or no cost.

Here’s where the issue lies. Education—as represented by the school system—is considered a vital service. Child care—as represented by the afterschool programs—is not. The number of two-earner households continues to rise, a trend that is unlikely to reverse in our lifetimes. And yet school systems, and the municipalities who own them, continue to regard child care services that serve working families (such as afterschool programs) as something “extra,” a nice add-on. In reality, these services are every bit as vital to working parents as school itself.

On Thursday, though schools were open, the Department of Education canceled all afterschool programs (see screenshot from the DOE’s website below), already the third time they were canceled since the first of the year. When afterschool programs are canceled, it forces parents to leave work early and travel home on roads that are, presumably, treacherous enough to warrant said cancellation.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 1.11.00 PMHow this affects a working parent depends on what kind of work the parent does. If you have a professional office-type job, your management is probably sensitive to these issues. Thus, leaving work early to pick up your kid in a snowstorm is a mere inconvenience. If you’re salaried, you won’t have to worry about losing any money to do so.

But let’s say you work in retail or the service industry. Your boss might let you leave, but you won’t get paid. Someone who works a retail or service job will probably feel the loss of a few hours’ pay more keenly than a better-compensated office worker would. In short, the cancellation of afterschool programs hurts most those who can afford it least.

The failure to recognize the importance of afterschool programs is indicative of a larger failure of school systems everywhere to adapt to the needs of modern households. In New York State, for instance, there are around 180 school days per year. Assuming a parent gets two weeks’ vacation, receives all major holidays off, and never has to work weekends, he or she has to be at work about 230 days a year. That leaves a differential of 50 days, and even this gap assumes an amount of off time that many parents can’t count on.

Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, American adults have a pronounced antipathy to taking days off of work. This has to do less with ingrained Puritan work ethic and more to do with the fact that many of us simply can’t afford lengthy vacations. And yet, we give our children one of the shortest school years in the world. Making kids spend more time in school clashes with our post-Boomer notion that the ideal childhood is filled with acres of free time to play and be creative. This is how parents wind up with a gap of 50 days (or more for many parents) that must be filled by some form of child care.

What’s especially infuriating about this gap is how little bearing it has on the realities of modern lives. The bulk of those 50 days are comprised of summer vacation, an antiquated remnant from the days when most kids had to help out on farms during the hotter months. The rest comes  from extended vacations that do not correspond to any parallel time off received by working adults. The discrepancy between the schedules of school-age children and the schedules of earners forces periodic child care crises, adding unnecessary stress to the already stressful state of being a working parent.

Next week, kids in New York City won’t just have off for President’s Day. They receive five days of something called Mid-Winter Recess. Most working parents don’t get their own Mid-Winter Recess. There are day camps to take care of all those unleashed kids, assuming parents can afford them. Those who can’t have to hope a grandmother or friend can keep an eye on the kids. If not, they have to take off those five days, assuming their boss will let them come back to work when it’s all over. And keep in mind that this Mid-Winter Recess comes only six weeks after kids were off for eight days around Christmas and New Year’s.

All this time off has no relevance to a modern family’s schedule, and it might even be detrimental to children’s academic development. The same can be said of a school day that ends when most parents still have hours left on the clock.

Of course, there is no solution that will make everyone happy. Absent federal legislation for paid family leave (which seems a non-starter), it would basically require employers to be accommodating to working families’ schedules. Any solution would also require teachers to work more days and hours. Most teachers would say they work hard enough as it is, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But the difficulty of arriving at a solution shouldn’t be a reason to not fix something that’s clearly broken.

There has to be some way to shrink the time gap between working parents and their children. Perhaps it begins with thinking of those post-2:30 hours not as afterschool, but school period, thinking of child care not as some extra thing but a necessary thing. Until we do, snow days are the least of our problems.

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The Snark, Hunted

You may recall that a while back, I wrote a post about a failed attempt to do a “dramatic reading” of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” Nevermind; you don’t recall that. Nor should you.

Regardless, the reason I made that failed attempt is because Jean Shepherd used to read this poem on his radio show, and his recitations of it were one of my dad’s favorite things. He would attempt to recreate the effect by repeating certain lines in his best Shepherdian low. For the snark was a boojum, you see…

I could only guess at what Shepherd’s own version sounded like, because even though he reportedly read the poem on the air many times, there were no examples readily available. I scanned the darkest depths of the interwebs for months until I decided that alas, all of Shep’s readings were lost to the mists of time.

And then this morning, a man named David Director emailed me. He had a college roommate who taped many Shep shows in the early 1960s, as Shep fans often did back in the day. He had the foresight to make copies of some of his roommate’s tapes, including a series of shows from January 29-31, 1963, during which Shepherd read “The Hunting of the Snark” in its entirety.

David was kind enough to send me an mp3 of Shep reading the introduction to the poem (“Fit the First”) and to also give permission to share it here. So now, thanks to David (and his erstwhile roommate, David Singer), I present to you Jean Shepherd reading the opening to “The Hunting of the Snark.” Enjoy.

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What The Woody Allen Scandal Means For Me, A Very Important Writer

Surely no one wished to be in Woody Allen’s shoes when Dylan Farrow’s new accusations came to light earlier this week. But I assure you, gentle reader, neither did you wish to be me, a Very Important Writer, at that moment. For the news sent me into the kind of turgid self-examination and moral reassessment known only to Very Important Writers, the men to whom the world looks for guidance.

As you are no doubt wondering, how does an allegation of pedophilia make me, a Very Important Writer, feel? As shocking as it may sound to you, this is not a question I could answer immediately.

Foremost on my mind when hearing of Dylan Farrow’s tale of unconscionable sexual abuse and violation of trust was, of course, how would I enjoy Woody Allen’s films again? Could I restrict my enjoyment to one viewing of Annie Hall while sitting on an uncomfortable chair as penance? Would it be more prudent of me to watch his more difficult films such as Interiors instead? It was a quandary not to be considered lightly, and a burden that only I, a Very Important Writer, should be asked to bear.

You can be sure that when I, a Very Important Writer, heard this news, it caused me to pace about my brownstone, lost in the recesses of my Very Important Thoughts. The walls of my humble $3.5 million home soon grew too confining. I phoned up a Very Important Writer friend of mine, but he was busy preparing for the Bread Loaf Conference, and of course also preoccupied pondering the same questions about Woody Allen’s work as I. Could we ever enjoy Allen’s films again, he wondered, and if so what would be a respectable time to wait to do so? We reassured each other that we, two Very Important Writers, should be able to solve these dilemmas in our own due time.

Hoping to clear my head, I took a stroll around my colorful Brooklyn neighborhood, peering in the window of the antique shops and the coffee shops and the charming bistro that used to be a laundromat. I stopped at my favorite watering hole and sipped a 12-year-old scotch while exchanging pleasantries about a local sports team with the ruddy-faced barkeep. I sought solace in a delightful ethnic snack from a food cart while trying out snatches of Catalan I learned during one torrid summer in Barcelona. I believe I made myself understood, for all the deficiencies in my accent, and the considerable drawback that the delightful ethnic snack’s vendor was not from anywhere near Catalonia.

And as I ran across these people, I tried not to burden them with my own burden. To do so would have been unfair, for it is a burden they could not possibly have understood, no matter how much my soul yearned to cry out, You do not understand the grief Dylan Farrow’s lost childhood has caused me, a Very Important Writer.

I returned to my home, which began to seem very much like a prison to me. A prison with an ample garden and vintage pressed tin ceilings, but a prison nonetheless. The latest issue of The New Yorker was waiting in my mailbox, but it gave me no succor, despite a fascinating feature on the oldest bookbinder in Northampton. Nor did I find any relief in a sojourn through an advance reader’s copy of Franzen’s latest, The Tepids of Winona.

Alas, it is only in work that a Very Important Writer can find peace. We are much like the ant in that sense, or the miner, or the humble mechanic who toils on my Audi. And so I resolved to document my inner turmoil, because I wanted you, gentle reader, to know that even I, a Very Important Writer, can not answer every question. I must press forward nonetheless, though I can think of no person who has been hurt more by what Dylan Farrow was subjected to than I, a Very Important Writer.

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Greene Avenue, 1930

My grampa isn’t my grampa yet, so let’s call him Frank. Frank lives in Brooklyn or Queens, depending on what year it is. He doesn’t change his address, but the borough containing that address changes with the whims of city surveyors.

The subway is a recent addition to his neighborhood. The place is rapidly urbanizing, but there are still some signs of its small town past, like farms. A few small farms lie nearby, some only a few blocks away.

Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and Frank’s dad wants to take advantage of this proximity. He knows a farmer close by with more turkeys than he knows what to do with. Rather than drop way too much dough on a bird from the butcher, Frank’s dad figures he can buy one of these young turkeys, raise it in his backyard, and get it nice and fat in time for the big holiday. He doesn’t have a very big backyard, but how much room does a turkey need, really? All they do is eat and sleep. He’s seen neighbors raise chickens and roosters in their backyards. A turkey can’t be any harder.

This calculation doesn’t take into account Frank, and his sister Kathy. Once the turkey comes home and takes up residence in the backyard, they look upon it not as a future meal, but a pet. Frank and Kathy bring it scraps from the dinner table. They pet it and play with it, even though the concept of “play” seems too complex for a turkey to grasp. They name him Tom.

This presents a dilemma for Frank’s dad. He knows the kids are attached to the turkey and don’t want to see it slaughtered. He is inclined by nature to make them happy. He is not the whip-cracking type of dad, but a sentimental sort, a lover of pranks, a story teller. He ushers at St. Aloysius on Sundays, then goes from church straight to The Eagle’s Nest to bartend and exchange jokes.

Frank’s dad is also a Great War veteran. He served in France to display his patriotism at a time when the propaganda of the age said the True Americanism of anyone of German descent was suspect, a time. And it is 1930, which means Frank’s dad is a dad at the beginning of the Great Depression. He cannot afford to simply throw away food, even food whose name is Tom.

So despite his fun-loving, accommodating nature, Frank’s dad takes the turkey, chops its head off, plucks it, and hands the carcass off to Frank’s mom, who will cook it.

If the idea behind killing the bird was to not waste food, this proves poor reasoning. Frank’s mom and dad eat, but Frank and Kathy do not. They sit in their seats at the dinner table and stare at pieces of what was once their pet and burst out crying, wailing “oh, Tom…” Frank’s dad sees no point in berating his children, but reminds them that this is all the food they have. They can eat this on Thanksgivng or eat nothing. They choose nothing.

Frank will become my grampa and he will tell me this story, and in his telling it will be a funny story. He will imitate his young self crying over a turkey and laugh at the memory. He will have gone to war in a strange land, just like his father, and will come home in one piece and have to raise children on a tight budget, like his father. In his rearview, the plight of a turkey will come to seem like small potatoes.

You could call this cold or cruel, but I know my grampa was not a cold or cruel man. Just the opposite, just like his own father. Grampa just knew that parenting requires difficult decisions, and in a no-win situation, perhaps laughter is called for.

I believe that today of all days, if you can use your childhood pain not for brooding, but for laughing, then you should be thankful.

Letterman 10

Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, 1992

Last year, David Letterman “celebrated” 30 years as a late night talk show host. “Celebrated” gets quotation marks because he didn’t mark the occasion at all, really. Even this year, when Letterman entered his 20th year of hosting The Late Show on CBS, the milestone was barely noted at all. Bill Murray (first guest on Letterman’s NBC and CBS shows) made an appearance as Liberace for some reason, but that was Letterman’s only concession to the date. He apparently loathes anniversary specials and is now at a place, career-wise, where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Like work on Fridays, or answer questions about not wanting to do an anniversary special. (This Times article on Letterman’s 30th year in late night features zero quotes from the man himself.)

That’s a shame, because it was an anniversary special that first exposed me to David Letterman as a young lad. I assume so, anyway. As a kid, I never would have been allowed to stay up late enough to see Late Night as it aired. I had no real chance to see any of Letterman’s genius until I caught a prime time anniversary special full of clips. When I saw Letterman crushing things with a pneumatic press and throwing things off a five-story building, I thought to myself, in my own little kid way, “This is what TV was made for.”

Whilst scouring my VHS archives recently, I found a tape containing the Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, which aired February 6, 1992. This is a unique artifact for many reasons. Johnny Carson’s retirement was imminent and Letterman had already been officially passed over as his replacement. This, plus a decade of accumulated slights by NBC and parent company GE, made it abundantly clear he would leave the network when his contract expired in 1993.

Previous anniversary specials were more befitting Late Night’s weird, almost community access sensibility. Take, for example, the fourth anniversary special from 1986, wherein Dave, Paul Shaffer’s band, and a crew of technicians conduct the show from the cabin of a 747 flying from Miami to New York. Not a flight they’ve chartered, but a scheduled flight, full of confused, oblivious passengers who find themselves the unwitting audience (and occasionally, victims) of this program.

Then, take a look at the 10th anniversary special below, filmed at Radio City Music Hall with Rockettes, an all-star band, and huge studio audience. It’s almost an audition for the spiffier, toned-down show he’d soon do at 11:30.

Letterman killed The Talk Show Host by creating a talk show in which the host very obviously thought the very idea of a talk show was bullshit. It is strange to see him in this 10th anniversary special, attempting to undo that killing, in his own way. He even seems genuine when thanking the audience for waiting on line to get inside.

For all of the Picture Day propriety, though, there is still plenty of weirdness on display. Observe the studio audience and note that it is packed to the gills with mooks. From the outfits worn and the reactions hooted, you’d think it was Howard Stern on stage. I swear I spotted at least three dudes in Boomer Esiason jerseys. This serves as a reminder that during their respective 1980s heydays, Letterman and Stern were often spoken of in the same breath, comedy-wise, as being (each in their own way) purveyors of edgy, take-no-prisoners laffs.

You will also see a brief appearance by Bill Murray, Letterman’s first ever guest and kindred spirit in practicing the fine art of fake sincerity. Live Stupid Pet Tricks make an appearance as well, but the real treat here is to see the clips from old shows and be reminded of just how strange Late Night was. Try not to think about how, because of Letterman’s acrimonious split from NBC, we’ll probably never see these clips outside of YouTube again. (And while you’re at it, try not to think about how we’ll never see Conan O’Brien’s greatest stuff for the same reason.)

In the final half hour, we receive another reminder of how many amazing bands Letterman had on his show, bands that never would have appeared on The Tonight Show, or anywhere else on TV at the time, for that matter.

This leads into a special live rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, backed by a band with an insane assemblage of musicians. I remember watching this as a kid and cringing because I hated Bob Dylan. Now I watch it and…I still kinda cringe. I’ve tried with Dylan, I really have, but me and him are never gonna happen. Since he’s the most influential songwriter of his age, I’m willing to concede the problem lies entirely with me, not him. I blame the abundance of harmonica in his tunes. I’ve reached the point in my life where I actually enjoy some of his songs, but once the harmonica kicks in, I check out. No harmonica here, but Dylan’s voice, ew boy…I think I’d take creepy Victoria’s Secret Dylan over this.

And as always, for you weirdos who like commercials, here’s a collection of ads that aired during this broadcast. Featuring: The hilariously failed Reebok “Dan & Dave” campaign, an NBC-4 News “special report” on “Sex & Sports,” a promo for a Matlock movie where he visits “a town that makes its money on murder!”, and a slew of rock-stupid Budweiser spots.