Friday, March 7, 2008

Why Stern did Letterman

A friend emailed me:

Subject: H Stern

Saw him on Letterman last night. Gained a little more respect for him. He ripped "Dr." Phil and killed other "celebs." Totally awesome. Not that I will subscribe to Sirius yet ...

I replied:

Yes, Howard did well on Letterman. He and Dave have a long relationship, going way back to when they were both young stars at NBC ("Late Night" and WNBC-AM radio). You could tell the Letterman show's esteem for Howard by their giving him three full segments, with only one other guest. That is a pretty unusual compliment paid only to big guests.

When he is booked to do Dave's show, he discusses it at length on the radio, and his behind-the-scenes opinions are fascinating. Stern always delivers Dave's highest ratings and the crowd loves him; Letterman would have him on every week if he would do it, but he won't. At this point in his life, he is somewhat curmudgeonly and has totally made it career-wise. He doesn't need the exposure or the money, nor the pressure of expectations that he do well on TV. He stresses about it for days beforehand, preparing material and deciding what to talk about. (He always delivers the goods, but it takes work on his part.) He's a homebody and doesn't like to appear publicly in the first place, least of all on TV.

He only does Letterman these days to help his bosses at Sirius and pay TV, usually once a year at holiday time to promote Sirius and Howard TV as a gift idea. The appearance you saw was first aired in January. It was delayed by the writers' strike, which had Sirius all upset that they missed the Dec. gift-giving window. Still, they sell a ton of radios whenever he goes on.

With Stern having made the switch from FM to pay radio and from the basic-cable E network to on-demand pay TV, the average person rarely sees or hears from him these days unless he goes on Letterman. All the more reason he feels he has to be great on his rare appearances.

He replied:

Very interesting background. Thanks for sharing.

I now reply:

Pfff... of course it was. We run this.

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