How David Letterman almost came to EXPO 86

Dec 19 2017, 11:16 pm

Written by Mike Klassen for Vancity Buzz. Mike Klassen is a principal at TCG Public Affairs, Vancouver blogger and political commentator.

Canadian Paul Shaffer is beyond a doubt an unsung hero of American television. This short interview with Dave is precious but hardly sums up his huge impact on music and comedy. He was the bespectacled, Elton John-emulating musician in the original Saturday Night Live series of the late 1970s, and who can forget Artie Fufkin of Polymer Records – Shaffer’s priceless performance in the rock mockumentary Spinal Tap. We can forgive him for his part in Tears Are Not Enough.

I have a fond memory relating to Shaffer and had a lot to do with David Letterman almost coming to EXPO 86.

An avid Letterman fan back in the 1980s, I recall watching Dave during a February 1986 show where he turned to Paul during the show and said, “they might want to send us on the road in May. Where do you think we should go?” It was an odd suggestion for the Letterman show, which was usually studio-bound, and only occasionally would do the show outside New York City. This newspaper archive clip from the Ottawa Citizen confirms the conversation.

In early 1986 the buzz around Vancouver was about the arrival of EXPO. At the time I was just beginning a gig working for an audio tech crew at EXPO preparing venues for live performances. A couple of good friends had landed jobs in the executive offices at EXPO. Everyone, including myself, could hardly contain their enthusiasm for the world’s fair to arrive on our shores on the old industrial land around False Creek.

In 1986, David Letterman was the king of late night TV. His show began then at 12:30 a.m. which made it more of a fan favourite for college age viewers like me. When he mused on his program about taking the show on the road, it hit me like a flash that Dave needed to come to Vancouver and bring Late Night to EXPO 86.

I then did something that amounts to a public relations no-no. I made a story out of thin air.

I called my contacts in EXPO’s executive offices and eventually was able to get someone in their marketing department. I explained to this person that David Letterman was looking to take his show to another city in May. Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity, I suggested, to invite him to EXPO?

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The marketing person was polite, and agreed it was an interesting idea. Most likely this poor person couldn’t wait to get me off the phone as they were mere weeks away from launching this massive event and didn’t need anyone to add to their workload.

Satisfied I had planted the seed within the organization, I thought I should let the media know that EXPO was in the process of courting Letterman. At the time I was a wet-behind-the-ears university grad who knew nothing about public relations. All I did was get the phone number of the entertainment editors of the local dailies, and called them up. While both sounded skeptical, they thought the idea that Letterman could come to EXPO was worth following up.

For my part, the work was complete. I had planted a seed and could only wait to see it would grow.

The Letterman coming to EXPO story took hold. After the story went public a letter writing campaign began to build to encourage Dave to come to Vancouver. A local newspaper included a petition that you could fill out and mail to the show. Thousands of people wrote in to Dave asking him to come here.

Eventually Letterman remarked to Paul (which I paraphrase here), “The good folks up in Vancouver want us to come up to that EXPO. Have you ever been to Vancouver, Paul? I love that Stanley Park.”

Letterman never did bring the show to Vancouver. Paul Shaffer, however, was invited and attended as an honoured guest.

As a public relations tactic it was exactly the wrong thing to do. But as fond Vancouver memories go, I’ll cherish this one as Letterman takes his final bow tonight.

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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