As a writer on both series finales, Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in May of '92, and David Letterman's Late Show in May, 2015, I can say the shows were similar in one respect: both required me to -- for one last time -- drive to work in the San Fernando Valley.
I know - the Late Show was based in New York. For you.
For me, since September of '94, it was always an LA gig.
I write, er, wrote for the Late Show with my partner - Jim Mulholland, another New Yorker-in-exile. For years we worked on Dave's monologue -- our specialty -- in Coldwater Canyon. But around ten years ago we switched to Jim's house in Encino.
Before us, Dave's jokes were produced by young assembly line workers in Guangdong Province, but there was a problem with shipping.
Despite my GPS coordinates, it's almost like I lived in New York. I worked and slept on New York time, read New York newspapers. Walking my dog in the dark at 5:30 each morning, I listened to 1010 WINS radio. There are palm trees in my neighborhood, and a squawky flock of parrots. But in my earbuds, John Montone is reporting from a snowdrift on Mosholu Parkway.
Dave likes to see jokes before noon. All right, liked. (By the way, did you see the Late Show set in a dumpster? CBS, you big soppy sentimentalist.) That's 8:45 AM out here. To complete a first draft by then meant setting an alarm for 3:45. Then devouring lots of coffee and news. And, trust me, news isn't even up at that hour.
Each morning began for me, as it no doubt did for all Late Show writers: by putting on sunblock. SPF 70. Not because I planned to work poolside. But my dermatologist warned me that any further sun exposure -- even through a car windshield -- and I might outlive my face.
Jim and I have met Dave just a handful of times. Seems like a swell guy. We know him mainly by the jokes of ours he selects and the ones he doesn't. Had we walked into the Late Show's offices, maybe two people would have recognized us. In twenty years, our one contact with a producer -- there are advantages to being out of town -- was a rebuke over a KFC joke. Thou shalt not piss off a sponsor.
Yet, the show was pretty chill when a Sarah Palin joke incited a mob to storm the Ed Sullivan Theater with ropes and torches.
In two decades of writing from LA, we never missed a show come shine or shine. At the trophy dinner, we are a shoo-in for Perfect Attendance. Even back when it still rained here, it was hard to tell your New York employer that you missed work because Sepulveda was out.
I was born and raised in New York, and consider myself a New Yorker still. Hey, I even held onto my west side apartment. I've always warned my wife that I am in LA on an extended business trip. A business trip in which I managed to fit in two marriages and kids. I kept receipts.
Now, I'm retired. In the same sense the Pharaoh's servants were retired when sealed up in a tomb with him. But I'm philosophical about the end of the Late Show. I have always believed that when one door closes, another door closes.
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