What Letterman learned

FILE - In this June 21, 2012 file photo provided by CBS, host David Letterman appears at a taping of his shows"Late Show with David Letterman" in New York. During a taping of his show Thursday, April 3, 2014, Letterman said he has informed his CBS bosses that he will step down in 2015, when his current contract expires. He told his audience he expects his departure will be “at least a year or so� from now. (AP Photo/CBS Broadcasting Inc., John Paul Filo, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

Where will we go for our “John McCain is old” jokes now?

It was a long, not-always-happy  run for Dave Letterman, the irreverent talk-show host who hated the couch/chair/desk format, but came to dominate it.

Well, no.

He was always beaten by Jay Leno, his one-time funnyman friend.

I covered TV from 1980-85 and got to know Leno.

No one ever got to know Dave. He doesn’t play a near hermit, that’s really him.

Just like Bruce Willis, another darling of the press, Letterman didn’t like the press, unless it was Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw.

When NBC gave him late-night show, a press conference was staged for Dave and it was clear he’d rather be in a dentist’s chair. He moaned that the format of talking to stars about their latest project was both passe and cliché, yet he found himself forced into it. For half his career he was a lousy interviewer. He never learned a key lesson from the man he worshipped, Johnny Carson: The guest is the star. You are not there to top the guest.

Carson was the all-around best ever. Ever.

Jay Leno learned that lesson which is why people didn’t have to be coaxed onto his couch. There were stars who avoided Letterman for fear of being blind-sided.

I liked Leno better as a person — really, everyone likes Leno as a person — but I watched Dave because I prefer humor with more hot pepper than mush.

(Of course, I expect a few to say they don't like Leno as a person. But they never met him, and they are wrong.)

Enough has been written about how Letterman upset conventions of TV, took his cameras on the street, turned Everymen like Biff Henderson and Rupert Jee into stars, plus the infamous Top Ten list.

But this is true, too: He would repeat some of the same jokes several nights in a row. That made me crazy. And… when Wednesday and Thursday night’s audiences laughed at a Tuesday night joke, it kind of says they weren’t watching on Tuesday.

For the first half of his career at CBS — when he wasn’t sexually involved with a staffer — he was a grouch, on and off the set.

I remember how he used to (try to) humiliate Kathie Lee Gifford because she talked about her kids.

Then he had a kid and — to Letterman’s great surprise — he loved being a father and suddenly you couldn’t shut him up about kids. There were at least some questions about kids to everyone who had them.

Yes, his son Harry really changed him.

And now he’s retiring because he wants to spend more time with Harry.

Someone should ask Harry about that.

Don’t be cross. Dave made a form of that joke himself.

CBS needs to replace Letterman next year.

I hear Jay Leno’s available.