Despite bluster, Letterman made clients comfortable during interviews

PR pros say David Letterman, who announced his retirement Thursday on-air, was known for making entertainment-sector clients comfortable during nationally broadcast interviews.

Communications executives have been eager to get their clients on the Late Show with David Letterman since its start. As Letterman gets ready to pass the torch next year, agency executives are sharing their experiences with the legendary late-night host.

Letterman, who said he will retire from CBS next year after 30 years on the air, is a "very important booking for us when we have personalities we are dealing with on a particular project, whether it’s a film, TV show, or DVD," said Bender/Helper Impact principal Dean Bender.

When his firm was promoting the DVD release of Independence Day, actor Will Smith went on the talk show.

"Everyone in the audience got a DVD that day, and [Smith] decided he wanted to throw DVDs into the crowd, and then [Letterman] said, ‘I’m going to join you,’" said Bender.

He added that Smith and Letterman were like "little kids at an amusement park throwing DVDs into the crowd," and the interaction between the two was great.

In addition to the national exposure, Bender said the reason so many people want to go on the show is because of how comfortable he makes the talent during interviews.

Before a client goes on the air, Bender/Helper preps him or her by figuring out ways to integrate their upcoming project into the interview. Just before going live, the talent walks through a pre-interview with the show’s producer, Bender explains.

"What separates all of the talk-show hosts is their particular personalities," he added. When it comes to Letterman, the talent really enjoys his witty, intelligent, and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.

Going forward, Bender said "it would be smart for CBS to look at [a host] that has really resonated with a younger audience" such as Jon Stewart. Bender said he thinks Stewart could be a perfect choice to replace Letterman if he can adapt from his work on The Daily Show to a late-night host role.

Joe Quenqua, EVP and director of entertainment at DKC, said that "a booking on Letterman, regardless of client, was always an event."

"In general, you could sense the clients’ nervousness before going on, much more so than with any other show, and it wasn’t just the infamously cold studio," he added.

One memory Quenqua has of the show stars an "unnamed actress" who was very nervous to appear on Letterman for the first time, especially because she had never met him before going on the air.  

"She did her two segments, did a fantastic job and came off stage and asked immediately if he was single," said Quenqua.


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