by Julian Spivey
My favorite Christmas television tradition (and one of the great annual television moments) came to an end Friday night (Dec. 19) on David Letterman’s final Christmas episode.
Letterman has two great Christmas traditions that have become a consistent and memorable part of his television show for more than a decade.
Every year in his final episode before Christmas he invites comedian/actor Jay Thomas onto the show to throw footballs at a giant meatball that sits atop the ‘Late Show’ Christmas tree. This tradition began on an episode in 1998 when then New York Jets NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest on Letterman’s show and he and Letterman attempted to knock the meatball off the tree. The pro football player struggled mightily to knock the meatball down, so Thomas, also a guest on the night’s show, ran out from the green room, grabbed a football and threw a perfect bull’s-eye on his first throw. An impressed Letterman has invited him back every year since, except for last year when Thomas had to cancel due to surgery. The second part of Thomas’ traditional Christmas appearance is the telling of what Letterman has referred to as “the greatest story in late night history.” Thomas tells the story of the time he was a radio DJ in Charlotte, N.C. and did a promotional gig with Clayton Moore, the actor who portrayed the original Lone Ranger on television. Forgetting to order a car for Moore, in full Lone Ranger costume, Thomas offered to give him a ride and what happened next is what makes the story the “greatest in late night history.” If you’ve never seen it you truly must.
The second great tradition from Letterman’s Christmas show dates back almost three decades to Letterman’s previous show ‘Late Night’ on NBC. It’s Darlene Love’s almost annual performance of the modern Christmas standard “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Love’s first performance of the song on Letterman’s show was in 1986. Love hasn’t been able to return to perform the song every single year since 1986, but her performance of the song on Friday night was her 21st on Letterman’s two late night shows.
Letterman’s final Christmas episode was the first time it really sunk in for me that he’d be retiring from show business next May, as I figured it would be. His Christmas episode and the traditions that come with it are one of the true television highlights of the year for me personally and I hate the fact that I’ll never get to see them anew again. However, the truly great thing about YouTube is I’ll be able to relive this yearly tradition every year around the Holidays. I know there are many more Letterman junkies like me out there who will do the same.
Maybe it was just my excitement for the final time that led me to feel this way, but I don’t think Love’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has ever sounded better and I don’t believe Thomas’ Lone Ranger story has ever been quite as funny.