Letterman
David Letterman is a changed man on his Netflix feature. (Illustration by Glucksman, Rhode Island School of Design)
Screens x
Letterman

Want to learn how to conduct a profile interview? Watch David Letterman on Netflix.

‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman’ is a talk show, but it doesn’t have games, karaoke duets, lip sync battles, dance-offs or celebrities in cars. David Letterman simply sits three feet away from his guest in front of an audience and talks. His newfound career goes beyond the surface level of most talk shows as he unpacks the roots and responsibilities of stardom.

The show premiered on Netflix in January 2018. With only six episodes in the first season and five in the second, each segment needs a notable guest, and Letterman doesn’t disappoint.

In the first episode, Letterman brought former U.S. President Barack Obama onto the stage for his first television interview since leaving the Oval Office. Next, Hollywood hotshot George Clooney joined Letterman for a discussion about his youthful dreams of becoming a baseball player. Then, Letterman spoke with Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist, who guided Letterman through her brave journey.

If you’re into podcasts or documentaries with in-depth profiles of people, then Letterman’s Netflix show will entice your curiosity. The iconic host subtly and respectfully encourages his guests to put down their shields and take a vulnerable stance. Letterman’s casual method of conversing makes him a perfect role model for being genuine and relatable as an interviewer.

According to Columbia University, the primary principles of interviewing include preparing carefully, establishing a relationship, asking questions and listening and watching attentively.

In Letterman’s Season 2 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, it is clear that he has come a long way as an interviewer and that he incorporates Columbia’s principles.

DeGeneres walks across the stage to an uproarious applause, and she and Letterman exchange thoughtful compliments as they reminisce about the times DeGeneres was featured on “Late Night with David Letterman.” He then begins to unpack DeGeneres’ illustrious career, including her early days as a stand-up comedian, her time starring in a sitcom, coming out as gay and landing her daytime talk show.

After almost 30 minutes of light chit-chat, Letterman asks about the time DeGeneres’ stepfather sexually abused her as a teenager.

“It’s a really horrible, horrible story and the only reason I’m actually going to go into detail about it is because I want other girls to not ever let someone do that,” DeGeneres says.

Shortly after DeGeneres’ mother remarried, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her stepfather demanded that he feel DeGeneres’ breasts to check for lumps, and she innocently agreed.

“Then he tries to do it again, another time, and then another time he tried to break my door down, and I kicked out the window and ran because I knew it was going to go more,” recalled DeGeneres.

As DeGeneres holds back tears, viewers catch a sincere shot of Letterman. It was like he was staring into the eyes of the naïve 15-year-old girl who was wrongfully taken advantage of, rather than the strong 61-year-old woman everyone admires today. He doesn’t interrupt DeGeneres or ask follow-up questions, and he gives her all the time she needs to tell her story of redemption.

Letterman treats all his guests with the reverence they deserve. He doesn’t set them up as props to amuse his audience or draw attention to himself to satisfy his ego. Instead, he gracefully climbs into a time machine and travels to places his guests rarely talk about: their childhoods, big breaks, scandals and victories.

But he wasn’t always the nicest guy on television. In his previous talk shows, Letterman never held back his antics to wreak havoc on his guests. He was notorious for making any brave soul feel uncomfortable, aggravated and dumbfounded. Letterman followed the four principles of interviewing, but he lacked the genuine sincerity he displays today.

Watching some of his older interviews makes audiences feel sorry for the clueless A-listers that Letterman bluntly criticized on national television. Whether he persistently asked Paris Hilton about her time in jail, watched Drew Barrymore give him a striptease on his desk or compared Joaquin Phoenix to the Unabomber, Letterman always had the last laugh on his shows. As guests dug their graves, Letterman’s additional commentary would nail their coffins shut.

The awkward tensions transferred into ratings, causing Letterman to become the king of cable TV. However, having a Netflix talk show is a different line of work. On cable, a show is defined by its ratings, and the regulations only allow for so much creative authenticity.

Letterman didn’t previously have much of a say about who sat on his couch. Like most talk shows, every guest has an agenda. However, on his Netflix feature, there are no selling points or promotions. Letterman handpicked the guests that both he and his viewers would get the pleasure of watching.

That being said, it’s logical to assume that after years of censorship, Letterman would take advantage of his new platform — a streaming service where most acts can get away with just about anything. Instead, he traded his snarky attitude for pure admiration, which is a change that any aspiring journalist, TV host or loyal fan can appreciate.

Leave a Reply