NEW YORK – “Late Show With David Letterman” turns 20 on Friday.
So let’s get to the list, shall we? Twenty memorable moments in chronological order:
Aug. 30, 1993: First guest Bill Murray spray-painting “Dave” on the host’s desk. Other first guests Billy Joel, Tom Brokaw and Paul Newman (“Where are the singing cats?”) do not damage property.
Sept. 8, 1993: Vice President Al Gore wears goggles and smashes ashtrays. It was all in service of comedy, but the absurdity of the screen grab – goggle-wearing vice president wielding hammer – did not help politically.
Feb. 14, 1994: Dave’s mom, Dorothy Letterman, joins the show as, umm, Dave’s mom, and interviews Hillary Clinton.
March 31, 1994: Madonna discusses sex and the various parts of her body that are used to that end. She is heavily edited throughout – 13 times, in fact – which may be why the only recollection I have is of one long bleep.
May 13, 1994: After a week of airing the show from L.A., Johnny Carson, in his last TV appearance, closes it all down. He walks out, presumably to do a Top 10, but takes Dave’s seat. He says not a word for 30 seconds, then leaves. “That was great,” Letterman said. “That was great.”
April 12, 1995: Drew Barrymore hops on desk, dances and flashes Letterman, who doesn’t seem to mind in the least.
Oct. 28, 1996: That salute to manager Joe Torre and the New York Yankees after their first World Series win in 18 years.
June 5, 1997: Farrah Fawcett meanders aimlessly through the byways of her mind, confounding all while establishing herself as a late-night TV legend.
Jan. 12, 2000: Hillary Rodham Clinton, after enduring six years of Letterman torments and taunts, submits to an interview (she was running for senator).
Feb. 21, 2000: Letterman made a triumphant return after his quintuple bypass and had his medical team in attendance, in what may be the most memorable show of them all.
Sept. 17, 2001: The return after 9/11, with a succinct summation of the horror: “We’re told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor. … And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any … sense to you?”
Oct. 30, 2002: The entire edition is devoted to musician Warren Zevon – then diagnosed with mesothelioma – who performed and spoke of what he’d learned in life. (He died in 2003.) Still probably the best hour of “Late Show.”
Nov. 4, 2003: “Last night at 11:58, I became a father.”
Jan. 31, 2005: The Johnny Carson tribute edition; per Dave, “At the end of the day, that’s who you wanted to be there” – which is how, come to think of it, I feel about Dave.
Dec. 1, 2005: How could any list exclude the Super Bowl of Love – in which Oprah Winfrey finally appeared, ending what popular culture had decided was a “feud.” Dave was even nice: He called her “the most beloved woman in America – despite the fact she gave us Dr. Phil.”
June 6, then June 15, 2009: Letterman makes a pair of lame jokes about Bristol Palin. (Example: She was “knocked up” by A-Rod at a game.) He’s forced to apologize.
Sept. 21, 2009: President Obama becomes the first sitting president to do the show.
Letterman hits 5,000 shows in late-night TV three days later.
Oct. 1, 2009: The night a few million jaws clattered noisily to the floor, when Dave admits to multiple office affairs and relays a wild story about an extortion plot gone bad. Later in the week came the apologies.
Oct. 29, 2012: There was no audience because of uninvited guest Superstorm Sandy. Eerie silence pervades the Ed Sullivan Theater.
April 9, 2013: Lindsay Lohan is asked, “How will this time be different? What are they rehabbing?”
She responds: “We didn’t discuss this in the pre-interview, I’m just saying to everyone.”