David Letterman is handily beating his new late-night rival, Conan O’Brien, in the ratings—just not in some of the key, younger demographics. And that’s due to his singular, quirky charms, writes Peter W. Kaplan in New York, calling Letterman the “last grown-up on network television.” Unlike his erstwhile and future rival, Jay Leno, Letterman does not disguise his disaffection to satisfy affiliates. At 62, he is “the last American codger.”
“His monologues are indifferent as one-liners and jokes,” but when reality sets in, the comic shines. “When Letterman begins to invert and mutter, when his personal neuroses and raw wounds are inflamed by the assaults of everyday life,” Kaplan writes, he becomes “something like the scarred protagonist of his own comic novel.” Whether talking about Sarah Palin or his own heart surgery, Letterman comes off as a man who "has absorbed, not evaded, events and recorded, not denied, human experience."