Taping Date: Multiple
Air Date: Same day as taping
Where to get tickets: No Longer in Production
I’ve had the privilege to go to the Late Show with David Letterman four times. The show was filmed at the famous Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.
June 12, 2006
The first time I attended the Late Show With David Letterman was part of a trip with a friend. We had booked a short Carnival Cruise from NYC to Halifax and back, but we went to NYC a few days early. We were able to get confirmed tickets to David Letterman before the cruise. The guests on that show were Paris Hilton and NY Times Crossworld Puzzle creator Will Shortz. This episode didn’t have a musical guest.
November 16, 2011
The second visit to the show wasn’t planned. I was in NYC with a friend for a week, doing some sightseeing and broadway shows. We decided to try and get standby tickets for the show. The first attempt, on a Tuesday, we weren’t selected from the standby list, but went back the following day, and were able to get in. We really lucked out, as the guest was Jerry Seinfeld. Not only was he interviewed, but he also performed stand-up on the show. A very cool experience! The show also featured musical guest Lykke Li.
March 3rd, 2014
The third time I went to the show, I was meeting my cousins in NYC, but was there a couple days before them. It was a very cold week in February, so I was walking down Broadway and there was actually CBS Pages out on a few corners recruiting people to be in the audience. I had my Monday afternoon free so I went over to the show. The guests on that show were actor Zach Braff, Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco & Dr. Andrew Lee, and musical guest Future Islands.
March 6, 2014
Later in the same week, I was walking with my cousins and a friend, when we came across one of the CBS Pages that I met earlier in the week. She asked if we wanted to go to the show, but since I’d been to the show earlier in the week, I told my cousins and friends to go without me. This show, like most TV tapings, ask you not to go back within a certain time period, to allow others the chance to go. But this nice Page said it was no problem to get me back in to see the show again, since it was a slow week due to the weather. So fortunately, the four of us were able to go together. The guests on this show were Tom Brokaw, Andrew Hadlock (grocery bagging champion), and musical guest Bob Mould.
Attending the Show
While my memories of attending these shows sort of blend together, I’ll describe the basic process of attending the show. The line for the show would form in front of the Ed Sullivan Theatre and stretch down to the corner.
At one point, CBS had a (very) small souvenir shop right on the corner of Broadway and 53rd. This shop has since closed, and has had a variety of tenants since.
The process starts as the staff check tickets and leads the audience into the lobby, going through a security checkpoint on your way in. You would stand in the lobby for anywhere from 30-45 minutes, during which time the CBS Pages would announce the rules, procedures, and show a funny video featuring Alec Baldwin explaining how the show works.
In the Ed Sullivan Theatre
Once they are ready, the audience is lead in to the theatre. There are two seating areas, the main orchestra level, and the balcony. Regardless of where you sit, you can still see pretty well. The theatre currently only has about 400 seats, so it’s more intimate than a traditional Broadway theatre. Also, due to the cameras positioned on the stage, sometimes you can actually see better from the balcony, as you are looking over the cameras. We didn’t seem to have an option of where to sit, the Pages would simply direct you.
Before the taping starts, a warm up comedian would speak for a few minutes, and then introduce the band, and finally David Letterman himself. Unlike many shows, Dave would often come out before the show to speak to the audience and kick things off. He would also take a moment to remind us of how historic the theatre is. Being the home to Ed Sullivan’s show, this stage saw some of the world’s most legendary performers, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
The show itself is filmed live to tape, meaning the film it as though it is live. This is a common practice for talk shows and game shows, as it cuts down on the editing needed before the show airs that night. This means, if the commercial break is 3 minutes on TV, then you wait 3 minutes between segments in the theatre. The one exception to this that I noticed is when they have to set up the musical guest. Depending on how much equipment is needed, this can take longer. During commercial breaks, the house band, Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, would play through the break. David Letterman himself would usually stay at his desk and have his make-up fixed while going over notes for the next segment.
After the Show
Once the show ended, the audience would be quickly ushered out of the theatre. Generally the balcony audience would leave back through the lobby, while those in the orchestra would exit doors at house right that lead right out to 53rd street.
David Letterman often featured Rupert Gee, who owns the Hello Deli at the side of the building. This wasn’t a gag, the Deli is real, and you can go in and meet Rupert himself, as well as buy some food and drinks. I’ve been able to meet Rupert several times, and he’s a very nice guy, although somewhat shy and reserved. I think this is why Dave enjoyed having him on the show.
Another person I was able to meet from the show was Dave’s stage manager, Biff Henderson. Dave often featured Biff on the show. After attending one of the shows, we bumped in to Biff just outside the theatre. He was also very nice.
I was very fortunate to attend the show on numerous occasions. While the Late Show with David Letterman ended in 2015, the show continues now as the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You can find an article about my experience at that show here on my site as well.