December 17

The *Last* David Letterman Christmas Spectacular

Darlene Love on David Letterman's Christmas EpisodeMan, this bums me out… With all the news about David Letterman retiring in 2015 from CBS’ The Late Show, and Stephen Colbert taking over the reins, I completely failed to realize one of the ramifications of this: That this Christmas, 2014, would be the LAST of Letterman’s annual Christmas Spectaculars, whose arrival each year had become an unabashed holiday tradition for me. (I wrote about last year’s Spectacular HERE. Check it out.)

What is this ‘Christmas Spectacular’ you speak of, you may be asking? Let me give you the quick summary….. At some point in the 1990s, Letterman scheduled Darlene Love to sing her stone cold Christmas classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from the equally classic 1963 album “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.” That right there is reason enough to tune in, but there was more happening on this particular night.

The Late Night set was all decked out in holiday decorations, and for some reason known only to David Letterman, there was a pizza and a massive meatball atop the otherwise lovely Christmas tree. Anyway, quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest as well that night, and he and Dave played the ‘quarterback challenge,’ where they took turns throwing footballs at the tree trying to knock the meatball off. Of course, neither one of them could do it, but it was entertaining to watch. Stay with me….

The last guest scheduled this fateful eve was radio personality and actor Jay Thomas, promoting who knows what. Anyway, as part of his interview, he told a story about the time when he was a young DJ and had to chauffeur Clayton Moore, aka The Lone Ranger, around town. I won’t repeat the whole story, but it involved a car accident, and Letterman thought it was hysterically funny. (Jay Thomas couldn’t make the 2013 episode due to having surgery; John McEnroe filled in and told the Lone Ranger story in his place.)

The final piece of what made this seemingly random episode an instant classic was that after watching Vinny and David Letterman fail to knock the meatball off the Christmas tree, Jay Thomas came out and destroyed it with one throw.

All of these unconnected things, Darlene Love, the meatball on the Christmas tree, the Jay Thomas Lone Ranger story, the quarterback challenge….. well, they added up to something pretty weird, and pretty special. David Letterman must have thought so too, because the next year, he repeated the entire thing over. And the year after that. And the year after that, and so on. Right up until today. And I never missed one of them; they became just a little something special that I enjoyed every year, all by myself, in the wee early morning on a day just before Christmas. And I loved it. Here’s a video compiling Ms. Love’s performances from over the years. Amazing:

And here’s Jay Thomas’ Lone Ranger Story/Quarterback Challenge from 2005:

And now, this week, this Friday December 19: it all ends. This will be the very last Christmas Spectacular, and for something as odd as this annual television broadcast is, I’m kind of sad about it. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about having an annual tradition, something to look forward to every year, something that never changes. That’s what this was to me. Oh sure, we’ve got lots of other holiday traditions, some that people might even consider ‘normal,’ and not just a TV show.
But you can bet I’ll be watching Friday night (I always watch this annual episode in real-time. No recording or DVR’ing allowed!) and I’ll be cheering the meatball toss, and laughing at the Lone Ranger story, and dancing along as Darlene Love sings the hell out of that classic Christmas tune, as she always does. Yeah, I’m a bit sentimental about the whole thing, and more than a little sad that it’s ending, but that’s the way things go. I hope you check it out this Friday night; it’s now or never!

*Saturday Dec. 20* In case you missed it (you missed it, didn’t you?) here’s the ever-amazing Darlene Love’s last ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ Late Show appearance from last night:

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Posted December 17, 2014 by in category "Christmas", "Pop Culture

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