Hal Gurnee on finding the Ed Sullivan Theater for “Late Show with David Letterman”

Hal Gurnee on finding the Ed Sullivan Theater for “Late Show with David Letterman”


the producers executive producers wanted
to do it at CBS first of all they want to it was it was Bob and Peter LaSalle
II people the silently lives on the west coast and Bob always wanted to go to
West Coast and they they talked me up the idea of going to first of all the
CBS new buildings in in Hollywood and Dave asked me and Bob to go out and take
a look at them and see what we thought and Bob came bags are there great names
it’s gonna be perfect for you and I and I and he asked me what I thought I said
it’ll be like doing a show at a Space Agency it was this great big shiny
buildings I said Dave the good news is like 40 acres of cars yeah and so he
says all right so i i dissuaded him from that and then we started looking in New
York because I you know I didn’t want to move to the west coast and neither did
most of the people on the show and neither did Dave I said people aren’t
funny on the west coast yeah and they are funny in New York and and so we
started looking for a theater and we looked at the old Hudson theater where
the with its first Tonight Show was distorted yes we went to different
theaters and none of them had the seating of a word it didn’t just didn’t
appeal and then we decided to go to the broadcast center CBS broadcast Center
and the one big studio there was a couple soap operas and they wouldn’t
give up and they’ve recommended a one of the one of the studios there and they
and without my knowing it Dave signed on he just said okay let’s
do in here and then the set director myself went over and looked at it
started measuring and I said it’s no bigger than the studio right now we went
back to Dave and I said the Ed Sullivan Theater was great for it
Sullivan and all those people why don’t we give it a try so he went over and
Dave almost walked out what they even say no rat infested slimy place how’d he
expect us to do a show here I said if all the slime is removed it’s a great
great venue it was slimy and red and it was it was first of all the control
room was put in the back of the only so he took up make one quarter of the seats
and then off that was a couple ramps up to staging extending the the stage out
for commercials and the seating would be maybe one-third or one-fourth the
mountain that were originally intended and the thing about the Ed Sullivan
Theater is it wasn’t what at Sullivan it was it was the Oscar Hammerstein theater
back in the 20s and it was built with the largest proscenium in New York and
it was made for musicals unfortunately the the depression came along and no one
was producing big musicals and it became a nightclub for a while and then CBS
took it over and and did two things like Garry Moore and and and I remember going
there for the Ed Sullivan Show with Garry Moore it was pretty damn good but
now it had fallen to this disrespect repair and and I still wanted I thought
jeez this would be a good deal for CBS and the president of CBS at the time he
was with us and he showed us he showed us the studios and at the broadcast
Center and then he came with us to look at the Ed Sullivan Theater again and
while daven and and the two producers were
just shaking her hands he said I want to talk to you so we walked out and I said
he said what do you think about this place where do you think he could turn
this and I said just a minute let’s let’s walk and we walked out sort of the
theater onto Broadway and I said here’s the answer you’re on Broadway he got
activity here it’s you clean up this place and it’s a great theater what more
do you want and it’s for sale I’m CBS just I think leased it there was a
office building attached to it that one what the theater were all as you know it
would to me well it could be better but I still had a lot of resistance and then
one day Dave said to me he said hey Ari we bit clean it up he said do you think
it’ll look like 11:30 and we were on at 12:30 to look like 11:30 and I said no
it’ll look like 8 o’clock and that’s what happened I was realizing we were
number one for the first three years we were there and everybody agreed that it
was a great great venue for a talk job

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