‘Late Show’ Exec Producer on the Letterman Hurricane Episode That Almost Didn’t Happen

Oct 31, 2012  •  Post A Comment

Even without an audience — and with all the awkward TV moments endured by a host performing in front of an empty house — one thing CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” can boast about is that the show went on. But the late-night staple’s Hurricane Sandy show Monday night almost didn’t happen, executive producer Rob Burnett told TV Guide.

"It was very strange for all of us to be standing there and watching the show, with all of it looking the same, except for the fact that there was no one in those seats," Burnett told the publication.

He said the show was treated as a normal taping, including having the band play to the empty theater during commercials. "There really was no reason [for the band] to do it," Burnett told the magazine, "except it created the glue of making it a show that has a certain pace and urgency to it."

Burnett added that Letterman, at the end of the taping, turned to the empty seats and thanked the “audience” for showing up. "It cracked us all up," Burnett said.

The report adds: “But this was hardly an ordinary show. Letterman read some of the night’s monologue from his desk — and without the customary laughter, he played off the silent response. Stage manager Biff Henderson, stationed outside in the rain, reminisced about past hurricanes in his native North Carolina. Cue cards were used in place of graphics for the show’s Top Ten list. And guest Denzel Washington walked in wet and wearing a raincoat.

Burnett said the host was "very taken and impressed" by Washington’s honoring his commitment to appear. "We weren’t sure if he was going to get here, and certainly he would have had every reason to cancel," said Burnett. "But he came in [to New York] on Sunday and honored the booking."

“Burnett said the decision on whether to do a show on Monday — something that NBC’s ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ also did, while Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ opted not to — was debated through the weekend,” the piece reports.

Said Burnett: "Ultimately we made the decision that in times of crisis, television tends to continue. We thought, well, there will be news channels on, there will be reporters running around, we should be able to do a show. And in light of everything else that’s going on, maybe it will be a nice alternative for people who have had their fill of watching reporters in slickers in the rain."

“Bringing in an audience to the show was a non-starter, however,” the report notes. Said Burnett: "We were certainly very sensitive and respectful of what was coming out of the Mayor’s office, so we certainly did not want to have 500 people come to the theater.”

Here’s a short clip of some of the awkwardness from Monday’s show:


  1. I’m guessing money was involved.

  2. Maybe but I’m sure Dave & everyone else would have gotten paid regardless. I’ve worked in television in some capacity since I was 15 and there is something of the “show must go on” attitude at play. And they were right – it was nice seeing something other than reporters in rain slickers for a while. Dave & Craig made the night.

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