David Letterman Question

Any reason David Letterman would use cue cards instead of a TelePrompter like most talk show hosts do these days? I can’t see any advantage to cue cards. Am I missing something?

I guess the answer could be as simple as he is used to, and feels more comfortable with, cue cards…

I thought your question would be about his socks.

It’s all he used back when his show began. He must be very used to it by now.

Leno also uses cue cards, as does Saturday Night Live. I can think of three immediate advantages.

  1. Last minute rewrites, additions, deltetions etc. All you do is make sure one human being changes one card rather than hoping you got the change to a production assistant who got to the computer, made the change, saved the change, and didn’t screw up anything else.

  2. It’s easier for the cue card holder to follow the host around. If Letterman wants to wander around the audience, the cue card holder can wander out there (out of camera range) with him.

  3. You can write really, really big on cue cards. Teleprompters don’t have quite the same flexibility. Look at those skinny things Obama uses.

This was discussed on a similar thread about SNL here a few months ago. The answers there was:
a) the lines are often being revised up until the last minute (easier to do on a cue card than re-programming a teleprompter)
b) Teleprompters only work well when the speaker is close to the camera, and looking directly at the camera

The first of these two may well be true for Letterman, too. Or, it may just be inertia.

Letterman doesn’t stick to a strict schedule when doing his monologue. He ad libs a lot, throwing in asides, talking to audience members, etc. Someone holding a set of cue cards can pay attention to where he is in the planned material and respond accordingly.

Both the ease of quick updates and maintaining place should be possible with teleprompters. It’s not like you can’t have a real person manning the computer that connects to the teleprompters.

Unless teleprompters are just backwards technologically. I can sure do it in PowerPoint or other software.

Since Letterman tells so many of the same jokes over and over, it’s economical. They don’t need to produce any new cards. Just reshuffle them every night.

No traditional talk show host uses Teleprompters, with the possible exception of Craig Ferguson, who improvs a lot of his monologue, anyway.

In order to use a Teleprompter, you have to be in a relatively static position and close to the camera. That works for news anchors; it doesn’t work on a talk show set (or sketch comedy set) where you’re dealing with multiple cameras, a large stage, an audience, and a band. The host is too far from any of the cameras to see a Teleprompter easily, he has to switch cameras constantly, etc. So cue cards are used.

Of late night talk show hosts, I know that Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, Fallon and Conan all use cue cards. You can often see the cue card guy on audience shots.

Stewart and Colbert do most of their stuff news-anchor style so they may be able to use Teleprompters.

Or his personal arrangement with his baby-mama.

::rim shot:: And if you happen to miss his monologue, just follow his head writers’ Twitter feeds.

It’s funnier to show the cue cards than a teleprompter! For the same reason, he has a 1982 telephone on his desk. :slight_smile: