The show's original host helmed the program from 1982 to 1993.
David Letterman is back on Late Night! The 74-year-old comedian appeared on Tuesday's episode of the show he originated 40 years ago to the day, and told its current host, Seth Meyers, about what he felt leading up to the 1982 premiere.
"What was I consumed by? Paralytic fear," Letterman quipped, before explaining that his worry about the premiere was due to his failed NBC morning show, The David Letterman Show, which lasted for just weeks in 1980.
"We had blown up the NBC daytime schedule a year previously. We had a show, a lot of us had a show, that we thought was just great," Letterman explained. "It was on for 90 minutes live, nine to 10:30 a.m. on NBC. It replaced two or three game shows. It turned out that America didn't want them replaced, certainly didn't want them replaced by me."
Despite his fears, Letterman opted to return to the network, something he was able to do because "when you're young, one of the nice complementary features of being young is being dumb."
"We all thought, 'Television is the way television is because we're not there yet. When we get to television it'll be fine,'" he said. "We were wrong about that and many, many other things."
Letterman had "trepidation" ahead of the premiere of Late Night With David Letterman, which was slightly assuaged by his first guest, Bill Murray.
"You have Bill Murray and you think, 'Oh my God, who can't love Bill Murray?'" he explained. "So I had mixed emotions. The night of the show, I just felt fantastic. And then that lasted until my feet hit the floor in the morning, and then the paralytic fear starts all over again."
Throughout his 11-year run, Letterman said he tried to be as "unusual as possible" to get people's attention. It was only after a successful first year, Letterman said, that "the cement started to harden" and he got comfortable in the role.
"Honest to goodness, if it weren't for your kind invitation, I would not have known that this is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of what you now do as the show," Letterman told Meyers. "I would not have known. So thank you, again, for that."
The OG host also had a compliment for the current one, telling him that the show "is so much better now, thanks to you." Meyers, who took over the show from Jimmy Fallon in 2014, laughed at the praise in disbelief, telling Letterman, "I don't know if I agree with that."
Following Letterman's Late Night stint, the host left NBC for CBS, where he led Late Show With David Letterman from 1993 to 2015. In 2018, Letterman was tapped for Netflix's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, a longform celebrity interview series.