Two icons, one real (Dave Letterman) and one fictional (Don Draper) have bid farewell. Both have had substantial impact, and both will be missed.
Letterman, 68, has now ended his run as the host of CBS Late Show and as a late night staple for 33 years–with Late Night on NBC beginning in 1982, and the CBS Late Show since 1993. Letterman and Leno were the last remnants of the Johnny Carson era when Carson dominated late night with the Tonight Show. As TV historians know, Letterman lost the Tonight Show tug of war with Leno in 1993 and moved to CBS to start the Late Show, and Leno and Letterman vied for late night audiences for years.
Letterman has survived personal issues—coronary issues and surgery in 2000, and a serious sex scandal in 2009. But his talent is unquestioned. His irreverent, New York style (and New York City-based show) played well in major markets but a little less so in middle-America where Leno was stronger. Though Stephen Colbert will replace Letterman beginning in September in the 11:35pm time slot, Letterman’s style is irreplaceable. In terms of his farewell, Letterman was able to close his career loop by having Bill Murray as a guest on Tuesday evening. Murray was Letterman’s first guest for both Late Night and the CBS Late Show.
Clearly the late night landscape had already changed with Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Conan, Colbert, and Jon Stewart, who will soon to depart The Daily Show. Interestingly Jimmy Kimmel chose not to do to an original show on Wednesday (May 20) opposite Letterman’s final show, though Fallon and Conan did. However, Kimmel, Letterman and Conan all did original shows opposite Leno’s departure, which now seems a long time ago. Where Letterman will pop up next is anyone’s guess.
On the fictional side, we won’t be seeing Don Draper any longer, as Draper, from AMC’s award-winning Mad Men, has also left us. Unable to cope with McCann-Erickson, which acquired Sterling Cooper, the talented, philandering Draper was last seen drifting in California doing yoga in the final scene. Given the show’s close, viewers are left thinking that Draper might have created the iconic Coca Cola spot, “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” which was indeed created by McCann-Erickson. As the show ends, it’s unclear what the next chapter is for Draper.
Mad Men’s strength is that it accurately portrayed the womanizing, heavy drinking, “big idea” era of advertising in the 60s and early 70s. The lack of racial diversity at ad agencies was dramatic in that era in the industry and the show never addressed the racial issues of the era. Mad Men was not just about Draper and you cared about all the primary and secondary characters, and the finals shows, while not definitive, gave viewers a far better sense of the future direction of their lives than The Sopranos. With a nod to Six Feet Under finale, where we learned about the demise of all its characters, the May 5, 2015 Media Post created an obit for the now 88 year old Draper who fictitiously recently died in real life.
As it relates to us media folk, media back then was a “department” at big agencies, and while Mad Men had its appropriate media character, Harry Crane, the idea of media-only agencies was still in its infancy as was the concept of digital media. However, the acquisition of Draper’s fictitious Sterling Cooper by the real McCann-Erickson was a precursor for the acquisition era of the ad industry, and the spin off of media departments into large media agencies. While the characters were fictitious, the drama and stories struck a familiar chord for those who worked in the industry in the 60s and 70s. But nothing stays the same in the ad industry, back then, and even more so today.
We will miss Dave and we will miss Don. Millions of viewers will miss them as well. Good luck to both.