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tv   Countdown With Keith Olbermann  MSNBC  October 2, 2009 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT

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national cat day by delivering cat piano coffee. customers paid $20 for a 12 ounce cup. >> it's earthy. it's robust. it has a strong aftertaste. weak. >> it's earthy and robust. >> with a strong aftertaste. i realize we have descended into the depths of our juvenalia. >> i'm in my comfort zone. mind if we see the kakapo one more time? it's the seriousness with which you wonder you ought to take it.
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>> nature versus nurture. >> that's going to haunt me to the dying days. that poor guy that endured that. our guests are e.j. dion, mike murphy, a republican consultant and u.n. ambassador susan rice. and then of course, we will see you back here on monday night. have a good weekend. i'm sorry that i completely lost control during that parrot thing. have a good night. it all started mildly enough, like another funny bit, but then the mood turned. >> i get into my car and the backseat of my car is a package i don't recognize and there's a letner the package. and it says i know that you do
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some terrible, terrible things. and i can prove you do these terrible things. there's quite a lot of terrible things he knows about and he's going to put nit a movie unless i give him some money. i'm like you, i'm thinking really? that's a little -- and this is the word i used. that's a little hinky. >> a late-night bombshell. >> i have had sex with women who work for me on this show. now, my response to that is yes, i have. i have had sex with women who work on this show. >> a man demands $2 million or he will reveal damaging information.
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he gave him a fake check and now joe hallerman is facing charges. david letterman has used humor to get through hard times. somehow, this feels different. >> i need to certainly protect my family, myself, hope to protect my job and the friends, everybody that has been very supportive through this.
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nouns this is "headliners and legends." >> narrator: david letterman was born to be on television. for more than 20 years he's performed his brand of irreverent fun in front of millions of viewers. his show redefined comedy in the 1980s with pioneering humor and his quick-witted midwestern hit. >> what do you want to talk about? >> i don't care, but touch me again. >> but the road is long and his childhood f fame far from the childhood stage he called home. david michael letterman is born in a quiet midwestern suburb of indianapolis. he dreamed of growing up and someday being on tv.
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he remembers watching steve allen. johnny scar son carson is one o favorites. >> he told me he used to watch johnny on "who do you trust." johnny would crack wise with contestants. >> narrator: but the indianapolis of david's youth is world's away from showbizness. his father is a florist, a gle garous man with a knack for comedy. >> people knew joe letterman as a cutup. a boisterous man. dave likes to say when he walked through the room, the lamps would rattle. >> his mother dorothy is more straight laced. she doled out the discipline in the household. >> dave is is a middle child. he has an older sister and a younger sister. he was the only boy. and i think his brother didn't
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know what to do with him at some level. >> narrator: in 1951 when david is just 4, his father suffers a heart attack. he survives but from that moment on, it never leaves david's mind that it could happen again. david grows into a self-conscious, awkward teen. in high school, girls aren't interested in him. he's not popular or particularly athletic. he hides his insecurities behind his sense of humor, which alternates between sarcasm and just plain silliness. at the atlas, he's known for practical jokes. one is stacking cans so high they touch the ceiling. >> ukdn't get anything out or in. it was just there. everybody was having a ball with it, laughing. >> narrator: during school hours, david does find one class
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that kachs his attention. public speaking. like the father he adores, david is a natural letter takener and this is a place he can perform. >> and now, here's johnny! >> narrator: it's not surprising that david is also consumed by what he sees on television, especially comedy. and johnny carson becomes a life-long role model. >> when johnny succeeded jack paar, carson equals cool to this day. >> narrator: letterman graduated high school and enrolled in ball state university, about 60 miles from his hometown. from coast to coast, the hippy movement, rock 'n roll and protests of all kinds are sweeping campuses. but not at ball state where life is more traditional.
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david fits right in. >> most of the ball state people back then were from the state of indiana. maybe not highly attuned to the most current emotional issues of the day. >> narrator: it's david's first time away from home. he joined a fraternity and does a fair amount of socializing. he also pursues his interest in broadcasting by signing up for tv and radio. he also created a sport called fungo ball. >> you had to roll it out into the middle of the stadium, through the turn spiel into the other team's bus. >> eight forward snyders, 12 notchers. >> he built a small campus following. but the station's management is not amused by his satirical
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style. david is soon fired. the administration may not like his antics, but michelle cook does. david is smitten when the attractive six fool tall music major shows interest in him. michelle is david's first serious girlfriend and quickly becomes his biggest fan. >> first time i caulk talked with her, she let me know her boy friend was funnier than i was on the radio. >> deeply in love, the college sweethearts elope his senior year. and after graduating in 1969, the couples move to indianapolis so david can pursue his broadcasting career. things are about to start going david's way. but with success will also come a devastating loss.
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e. david letterman and his new wife return to his hometown in indianapolis. he gets a job at channel 13. there are few jobs the size of indianapolis and finding one is a coup. he hosts not one but two. clover power is sponsored by the 4 h club. he can't help but infusing the show with his sardonic style. >> hi. we've been waiting for you folks. we've got the big time histionic extravaganza for you today. >> his others is freeze dried movies. >> scotland yard, three feet six inches, which is different from
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the american yard which is three feet even. >> but it's as a weatherman that he gains most notoriety. it's the perfect vehicle to show case his wit. >> i think you'll see that once again we've fallen to the pray of political dirty dealings. the border has been removed from indiana and ohio making it one giant state. personally, i'm against it. for almost four years his offbeat manner keeps his thriving professional. but without warning at the age of 57, dave dafd's father suffers another heart attack. this time it's devastating. -- fatal. david is devastated. >> i think it just left a gaping hole in his life but also created this fear of what's
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lurking around the corner. >> i know that it was a personal loss in his life. it was something he mourned very personally. >> david loses himself in his work. right now, tv weather has become too small a form for his talent. >> i did the weather and then i got bored with acludded fronts. i got frustrated. >> at the same time, jane pauley was making a name for herself on the indianapolis airways. it's not until years later that the two would become friends. >> i'm jane pauley reporting at the supermarket. >> narrator: in 1974, david decides to leave television and try his hand in radio. he host answer afternoon drive time show. it's here that david develops a reputation for the outrageous. >> one of the bits that he did
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on that program was reporting the soldiers and sailors monument at monument circle in downtown indianapolis had been sold to the island of guam. the island of guam was going to spray paint it green and use it as a giants a spare gus. >> narrator: but david's audience doesn't always appreciate his on-air humor. he sets his sights on becoming a comedy writener hollywood. but in the back of his mind, david dreams of performing his material in an arena like "the tonight show." >> i came out as a writer because it's easier to tell people you're going to hollywood to become a writer than to become a comedian. >> to say to someone i'm going to hollywood and be a comedian is like saying when i grow up i'm going to be a cowboy. dave didn't want to do that. so he left us without that information. >> narrator: in the spring of 1975, david finds the courage to load his red pickup truck and
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together with his wife michelle, they leave everyone they know for the city of angels. still, he clings to the notion that he can come back home if things don't work out. >> i was confident that i could go back to indianapolis or some other comparable broadcasting market, you know, without a great deal of difficulty, probably get another job. >> reporter: to david's surprise, he quickly finds an audience for his comedy, but not as a writer. >> he was there for a very short time when he decided he would throw caution to the wind and go to the comedy store, a club in l.a. that had basically become the comedy haven. it was the only comedy club out here. it was the only place where abc, nbc, cbs would come and see you. >> narrator: the shy midweste midwesterner is more than a little intimidated his first time out. but once he ascends the lighted stage, he comes alive. >> and on the back of the foam it says do not spray shaving
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cream towards open flame. thank god they finally had the sense to put that warning on there, huh? >> when i first met david letterman, first of all, he was very shy about going on stage, almost terrified. then he would get up there and he would be very funny. >> how many time have we been seriously injured when you go to the trouble of building a roaring fire in the bathroom sink. >> that combined with his sort of midwestern homespun, you know, innocence to some degree was sort of a potent combination. >> narrator: david's act begins to gain popularity, but he still lacks training. he looks to a more experienced comedian for direction. his name is jay leno. still in his 20s, leno is already one of the most talked about comics around. >> leno was a big influence in dave's standup comedy. he really appreciated and
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admired the way jay delivered jokes, the way jay set up jokes and paid off. >> narrator: before long, david becomes skilled at some of leno's basic techniques and begins retailoring his own act. but as david's career starts to come together, his marriage begins to fall apart. the showbiz life is too enticing for the young comedian and he begins to spend more and more time away from home. >> he was working all night, she was working all day and they grow apart. >> narrator: after eight years of marriage, they divorce in 1997. but he won't be alone for long. and with her help, dave's career will skyrocket. 7. but he won't be alone for long. and with her help, dave's career will skyrocket. 87. but he won't be alone for long. and with her help, dave's career will skyrocket.
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>> it's 1987 and letterman and his wife of eight years have now split up. at the same time, david ear career is picking up momentum. he signs with a high-powered agent. >> i think dave was the first guy who secretly thought that maybe standup was a way to another place. >> narrator: and for david, that place is del vision. he's soon making tv appearances on game shows and comedy programs like "the 60 minutes" parody "peeping times." >> why are you making phony footprints. >> i'm helping to kweep big foot alive. >> why? >> because in the little town of yule -- hi, luke. >> in a little town here in the state of washington, we all work
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together. >> narrator: he also continues performing standup as a way to get noticed. one night at the comedy store he attracting the attention of a fellow comedian, a woman named merrill marco. >> he said did you ever meet a woman who you thought was as smart and funny as you? i said gee, i don't know. >> reporter: she w . >> narrator: she was a berkeley graduate. they seem like a likely pair but a shared assistance of humor forms the basis of a relationship that quickly becomes professional. >> she realizes, boy, his style works with my material really well. so she started giving him her jokes, which wound up being a sort of story of their lives. and as dave progressed, she was the true woman behind the man.
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>> narrator: so with merrill's help, he gets invited on johnny carson. >> i watched him, liked him, admired him. i've been in awe of him all his career. >> everybody was out at the comedy store, trying to get on at the comedy store. then once you got on, trying to get "the tonight show" to come see you. >> carson's people do see his act and they're impressed. they ask him to appear on the show that until now david has only dreamed about. >> i was with him when "the tonight show" came up and approached him. he said, you know, i would consider it a great honor to be on. maybe make a few people on your show laugh or whatever he said. it was something -- you could tell he had going on -- a script he had written a long time ago. >> narrator: he confines in merrill that his ambitions go far beyond performing a standup routine. >> he opened up to her like no one before. he said yes, it was his dream
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and he would someday be the host of "the tonight show." >> narrator: for the moment, he's content to focus on his upcoming appearance. the way he sees it, this could be his big break or the end of his career. >> he's saying to me, after tonight, i'm getting into my pickup truck and driving back to indianapolis. >> narrator: to everyone who sees him, one thing is clear. david letterman is a star. >> i'm looking on the can and it says for the dog that suffers constipation. the way i'm looking at it, if your dog is constipated, why screw up a good thing, huh? that was the biggest thrill for me and even today, nothing was more exciting to me or as satisfying as appearing on that program with johnny.
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>> narrator: in the shortest warm-up in "tonight show" history, david begins guest hosting after only two more appearances. he'll take carson's chair more than 20 times over the next two years. but it's not david's tv appearances that catch the eye of nbc president fred silverman. it's a last-minute performance at a charity function that gets him think about giving david his own show. nbc is looking to compete against the usual morning fare of game shows and sitcom reruns with a folksy talk show format with housewives. what they get is the david letterman show. >> pretty much all you need for a show, isn't it? the bible? no, i'm sorry, it's not the bible. >> when i first saw him do his morning show, i was attracted that he seemed unlike other broadcasters. he seemed like he didn't belong there. he was talking with a regular
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person's voice on television. >> narrator: david's girlfriend comes onboard as the head writer and producer. >> tom snyder's dressing room. let's just see if mr. snyder is -- come on in, if you will. why, it's almost like a shrine in here. what's your name? >> brian. >> do you work for mr. snyder? >> yes, i do. >> what do you do? >> prepare cocktails. >> narrator: they also come up with a new concept called stupid pet tricks. inspired by david and merrill's only beloved canine ps. these inane students are always a crowd pleaser. unfortunately, the "david letterman show" is inundated with problems. not the least of which is its
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early morning time slot. >> the show was an immediate disaster. just his brand of humor just didn't work in the morning with the housewives looking at television at that point in time. >> narrator: after only a few months on the air, the call comes in, the david letterman show is canceled. although the show's ratings are abysmal, by the time the last show airs, he has a cult following and has won two emmys for his efforts. his one chance at hosting a network show has failed miserably. he's certain he will never work again. what he doesn't know is that he will soon get another break and this one will make him a star.
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hirk everyone, i'm milissa rehberger. the u.s. will not put in a 2018ed by for the olympics. they were so focused on the chicagoed by they have not been able to prepare a competitived by for 2018. cbs producer joe halderman pleaded not guilty in new york city today to one count of attempted first degree larceny. now back to "headliners & legend." cancellation of letterman's daytime show sends him into a
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deep funk. though still under contract, letterman retreats under the isolation of hole. it's not in his nature to seek the favor of anyone, be it an audience or network brass. >> someone asked president ford if the three years he spent in the white house were his most difficult three years and he said no, actually, he spent his most difficult three years in the fourth grade. he does little more than guest host for johnny carson. >> at this point, there are no late-night openings, so i'm not optimistic for that to come through, but in the meantime, i'll certainly be happy to take their money. >> narrator: then in november of 1981, nbc cancels the long-running tomorrow with tom
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snyder. opening up the coveted 12:30 time slot after carson. nbc executives think it's perfect for david's unusual brand of humor. >> fortunately, i was very, very lucky. i have been as lucky as anybody can get in show business and television because i got another chance. >> david letterman! >> narrator: his second chance comes in 1982. >> i'm very excited about this new show. and it's a big three or four days for nbc. >> late night is a talk show with a twist. it's unpredictable, original, and for a young audience bored with the form laic approach to tv, it's liberating. his first guest is comedian bill murray. ♪ let's get physical physical
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i want to get physical ♪ >> narrator: it's safe to say that no one has ever seen anything quite like david letterman. >> dancing with stage managers now is routine. then it was something. >> merrill marco brings back viewer favorites like stupid pet tricks and comic excursion outside the studio. >> we sell just bulbs. >> besides bulbs, what do you have here? >> nothing. >> shades? >> go to a place called just shades. >> we sell just lamps. >> what is the name of the store? >> just shades. >> what can you get in here? >> what can you get in here? shades.
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>> the show looks like a winner. >> 100 shows felt like, made it. and another cake and a party after 200 shows. and i think the cakes and parties pretty much stopped. >> narrator: but with success comes the pressure to keep succeeding. and no one feels that burden more than david. >> it was always like we're going to be canceled, we're going to fail. if next week's show isn't funny, we'll be off the air. that's what he would say because the self-doubt never went away. his anxiety affects the relationship with merrill. it affects both of their lives and for merrill, trying to live up to david's high expectations is not easy. he's coming up with fresh ideas. although she did feel like she was battered by the redex that they -- rejection and dave rejected so many of them.
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>> narrator: he pushed the limbs of late night. >> let's go behind the scenes. let's go outside. let's do something with the camera that we haven't seen before. let's have recurring crazy characters like a guy living under the seat. >> david? >> what can i do for you? >> do you have any a-1 sauce? >> narrator: but david never hears the applause. as late night becomes more popular, david becomes more self-critical. >> he would throw things. he was volatile about the show. that's because he was a perfectionist. he wanted the show to be a success. >> i thought i would never want to do this show for you. >> now why? let's explore this a little.
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why? because you thought i was -- >> an [ bleep ]. >> cher's remark shocks david. he defends himself publicly. >> if there's going to be some incendiary display, i usually wait for the other person to start. it's really -- there's nothing premeditated about this. there's no malice involved here. we're not looking to be mean or hurtful. >> narrator: david gets along with many of his guests. one is his fellow hoosier, jane pauley. >> don't you just want to say one thing? >> will lard lose some weight. >> hello.
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>> narrator: another frequent guest is jay leno. he's loyal to the person that helped him develop his act. >> he made jay a national figure, being on that show. >> narrator: "lagt night's" ratings are the highest ever when ge acquired a nbc in 1986 but he feels neglected under new management and shares his rising discontent with his audience. >> one of the more hilarious things he did soon after ge took over nbc, he and a video crew went to connecticut to the ge headquarters. >> can you turn off the cameras, please? >> we want to give this basket of fruit.
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it's a gesture of good will. >> turn off the cameras, please. >> narrator: meanwhile, behind the scenes, nbc is taking notice of jay leno. he's made "the tonight show's" permanent host guest. >> at no time his david letterman say he's getting too popular, too big. >> narrator: david is too absorbed by the demands of late nights to notice anything else. he rarely has time for his girlfriend of 8 years, merrill marco. >> they would drive home and he would say this didn't work, he was unhappy. it just put tremendous strain on the relationship and it broke. >> narrator: merrill leaves the show and they end their relationship a few years later.
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by the late '80s, late night has made david a celebrity. but his lifestyle is quite solita solitary. >> you don't get much of a chance to see him off the show. and i made a joke out of it saying i want to be your friend. we've got to spend time together. let me come over and watch football with you or something. >> narrator: but it's his relationship with another woman that will soon make headlines. you're going to need help... protecting some of your assets for retirement. an axa equitable annuity could give you... guaranteed income for life. i'd call them, but what do i know? i'm just the 800-pound gorilla in the room. don't worry. i'm here. want guaranteed income for life? axa equitable is redefining what you expect from annuities. ooh, peanuts.
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shepard by 1988, "late night with david letterman" is in its sixth season and more popular than ever. david celebrates the show's long run with an anniversary special at radio city music hall. >> we've come into the most famous theet e, the most
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beautiful theatrical structure in the world and overnight we've turned it into a lousy drive-in. >> narrator: offstage, letterman is extremely guarded about his personal life. then without warning, david suddenly finds himself being stalked by a mentally ill woman named margaret ray. his personal life is now exposed to all. >> he found her on the grounds, he found her at the pool. various places. one night he was asleep in bed, in bed with his girlfriend and he was like what is that? she was in the house, walking arrested emergency, notify the
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spotlight for a different johnny carson who has hosted show" for almost he says people know this is going to be my last everyone in the room looks "late night with david >> ed mcmahon our good friend that you are the $1 million winner -- waits to hear
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offered the job biggest battle in late night tv >> seven days earlier, nbc had committing to him that whenever johnny quit, he would >> narrator: when dave reads about the succession in the david was not a team player. ceremonies affiliate? he would say no. shakes hands with everyone. go to the affiliates he will stay at the house with them. >> because he was not a losing a that he had deserved, that >> narrator: david decides to
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leverages his popularity by had offers from abc, fox, cbs, and a number of . million and $16 year and the against jay leno's "tonight against the finally in january of 1993, nbc a catch. they want david to wait another .
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dave. dave's associates going to weasle tonight show" as much as he >> he asked johnny, what would johnny? you're asking me what i would do? his back on also i would like to thank them for their announced it's a >> this deal certainly would face even in the condition he's
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me employee of >> narrator: two months later, competing for the title king of late night television. it's not always easy living with copd, but i try not to let it hold me back...
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>> narrator: 1993 is a year of great change for david letterman. after 13 years at nbc, david will go head to head with "tot night show's" new host jay leno. it's hyped as a clash of the titans. >> i think it will be exciting once we go against each other. i think we will be watching both shows on a nightly basis. i think it will make our show
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better, it will make his show better. you're always better when there's competition. >> narrator: scores of david's fans line up outside the studio waiting to be a part of television history. the premier of cbs's "late show with david letterman." when dave walks out on the stage for the first time, he looks like a man in charge, ready to assume the mantle king. >> all i did was take the summer off. >> he was sort of a new man when he stepped up that show. >> narrator: david and jay aren't the only ones competing for the late night audience. he's also pitted against arsenio hall and chevy chase, but david
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quickly overwhelms all competition. chase's show is canceled after just six weeks, and the arsenio hall show is gone within the year. for nearly two years, david tops an embarrassed nbc in the ratings. david gets his mother into the act as the "late show" correspondent for the olympics in norway. by 1995, the tide starts to turn. on july 10, an appearance by hugh grant propels jay into the lead. >> there was a very famous episode where hugh grant got arrested and everyone wondered what was going on with him and he had already been booked on "the tonight show" and he got to talk about it for the first time and he got an enormous rating.
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. >> narrator: the grind was wearing david down. >> nbc hat "e.r." on thursday night. >> the late now ratings not only lagged behind "the tonight show" but also behind ""nightline."" david's trouble reaches far beyond his sagging ratings. on january 14, david announces he's going in that night for tests on his heart. the next day it's all over the news. david letterman has undergone emergency heart surgery. >> doctor says the operation has gone smoothly and letterman, who's 52 years old, should make a rapid recovery. >> narrator: five weeks later, a gaunt david takes the stage. the show revolved around david's health. >> my father dropped dead in his mid 50s. i thought thank god i'm dealing
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with it now and taking care of it. >> narrator: as he introduces the medical team, something extraordinary happens. he becomes emotional on the air. >> so it was five weeks ago today that these men and women right here saved my life. >> i think he revealed a softer, sentimental side to him. yeah, david letterman loves his life and we all found out that night. >> narrator: that evening, the program received its highest rating in six years. and for the first time, david openly jokes about being passed over for the one job he has coveted most of his life. >> bypass surgery is when doctors surgically create new blood flow to your heart. bypass surgery. a bypass is what happened to me when i didn't get "the tonight show."
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>> narrator: in november, 2003 at the age of 56, david is a dad. he and his long time girlfriend welcome a son they name harry joseph after david's father. the new family experiences a close call in march 2005 when police uncover an alleged plot to kidnap harry. authorities apprehend kelly frank who worked as a painter in letterman's ranch in montana. frank makes a deal with prosecutors and pleads guilty to obstruction and felony theft. he's sentenced to ten years in prison. >> i have a little story that i would like to tell you and the home viewers as well. the creepy stuff was that i have had sex with women who work for me on this show. now, my response to that is yes, i have. >> when david letterman had that flap with sarah palin. >> one awkward moment, during the seventh inning, her daht