NEW YORK —
A mood of melancholy hung in the air outside the famed CBS Ed Sullivan Theater on New York City's Broadway, as fans of David Letterman waited patiently, hoping to snag a rare ticket to watch the legendary late night talk show host tape his 6028th - and final - broadcast Wednesday.
“Plenty of memories there,” said Robert McDowell, who wanted to personally congratulate Letterman on his retirement. McDowell admitted it might be time for Letterman to move on.
“He’s been doing this over 30 years so far," he said. "I’m sure there’s lots of other things he’s like to do with his life. He’s up in age.”
WATCH: Excerpt from last David Letterman Show, May 20, 2015
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Still, many on line expressed sorrow at Letterman’s departure. “It’s a void” said John Jones of Washington D.C., who had been watching Letterman since he was a child.
Many of Letterman’s regular comedy features - such as “The Top Ten List," which often riffed on topical themes, and “Stupid Pet Tricks” - brought a zany unpredictability to late night television that contrasted with his more formal predecessors, like Johnny Carson and Jack Paar.
“The guy is just so instinctive and impulsive,” said Jones. “That kind of brashness and willingness to do things that are very real and very funny, was cutting edge back in the day.”
On NBC's "Late Night" and later on CBS's "Late Show," Letterman displayed a characteristic New York style and bravado. Indeed, Letterman’s routines often took him to the streets near the Broadway studio, to interact with neighborhood workers, tourists and passersby.
But Letterman himself, who was raised in Indiana, was widely praised for his unaffected conversational style with his parade of famous guests, including Bill Murray, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts and President Barack Obama. He was always ready with his signature gap-toothed grin, which managed to convey both irony and innocence at once.
Fan Greg Contaldi also loved the seeming spontaneity of the carefully crafted program.
“I feel like so many late night shows now are so scripted, and you can tell they’re scripted,” said Contaldi. “Letterman is leaving behind a legacy that no one is really taking over now. It’s really the end of an era.”
Letterman's final show broadcast May 20 featured a taped introduction by President Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Each of them said "our long national nightmare is over" in a comedic reference to the declaration made by former President Gerald Ford when he took office following the 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon. Letterman himself appeared in the segment, asking Obama, "you're kidding, right?"
Letterman's famed "Top Ten List" was delivered by 10 celebrities, including comedian Jerry Seinfeld and actors Jim Carrey and Bill Murray. The show featured many classic clips of Letterman's show from over the years and ended with rock band Foo Fighters performing their hit song "Everlong."
Letterman began as host of NBC's "Late Night" in 1982 but moved to CBS 11 years later after he wasn't chosen to succeed Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show."
In his final monologue, Letterman even joked that, "It's beginning to look like I'm not going to get ‘The Tonight Show.’"
With Letterman moving on, the "Late Show" will be taken over by comedian Stephen Colbert.
Sam Verma contributed to this report.