Posted by Glenn Lazzaro for his series “Adventures in Television.”
1995, National Video Center, NYC.
David Letterman was going to London for a week and Linda Danner, then head of the CBS Late Night Promo Department, wanted to do a big spot announcing the stunt.
The problem: there was no London footage. The show would be live, so there would be no footage until the first show aired. We came up with an idea to shoot some maps and iconic London landmarks to intercut with existing footage from New York. We were hoping to create a kind of 1940s movie sequence, where a plane is superimposed over a moving map to indicate the hero’s journey to a far-off land. Of course, once we started putting it together it evolved into something very different. It was 1995, not 1940, and we loved manipulating footage to create wacky, abstract imagery.
Linda and CBS producer Jane Fogtman started scouring tourist shops for New York City and London iconic miniatures: the Statue of Liberty, a NYC taxicab, a double-decker Bus, the Empire State Building, etc. Finding the props today would be easy, but this was pre-Internet so it took a while.
Art director Kevin Largent would then repaint them with Letterman and CBS logos.
He also built some beautiful miniatures of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Ed Sullivan Theater with a lighted sign. We especially loved the lighted sign. We were crazy for it. We kept turning it on and off until we finally burned it out.
We set up a tabletop shoot at National Video Center with the help of my live-action producer, Susie Shuttleworth. She hired DP Steve Kasmirsky to shoot 16mm film. I shot a hand-cranked 16mm Bolex, creating single-frame animations and flash-frames, for what we called in those days “poor man’s production value.”
After the shoot, we transferred the film to tape and the footage Steve Kasmirsky shot looked really pretty. Too pretty. Too pretty for the aggressive mix track that Bob “Boom Boom” Chapman had done. We thought the messy, grainy, flashy Bolex footage meshed better with the spot Linda wrote. So we distorted the “pretty” footage beyond recognition to match the Bolex footage. (Sorry, Steve.)
Bonus: Later that summer, we shot a spot for the “Late Show”based on the Tim Bodet-voiced Motel 6 spots. The much-loved Ed Sullivan Theater with the lighted sign made a cameo appearance in two shots.