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Humor muted as late-night shows begin returning to the air

NEW YORK (AP) – A somber David Letterman dispensed with comedy to pay tribute to his adopted hometown Monday while his guest, Dan Rather, twice broke down in tears.

Humor was muted in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks, even as America’s late-night television hosts returned to the air.

His voice halting, Letterman opened his ”Late Show” seated behind his desk with a non-comic, five-minute monologue. The Indianapolis native, who has worked in New York for 20 years, paid tribute to the city’s police and firefighters and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.



”If you didn’t know how to behave, all you had to do at any moment was watch the mayor,” he said. ”Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage.”

Letterman struggled to make sense of the attack, saying some people explained it as the result of religious fervor.



”If you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense?” he asked.

Rather, the CBS News anchor, pledged allegiance to President Bush as the president decides what to do next. ”Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where,” Rather said.

The veteran anchorman broke down and held hands with Letterman as he tried to explain what it was like at the crash site. Letterman quickly broke for a commercial. Rather again started crying when reciting a verse of ”America the Beautiful” and explaining how Americans will never hear the lyrics the same way again.

The ”Late Show” wasn’t entirely comedy-free. Guest Regis Philbin tried to allay Letterman’s stated doubts that he had come back on the air too soon.

”Do you think Kathie Lee will come back?” Letterman asked of Philbin’s former talk show co-host, Kathie Lee Gifford.

”There is somebody who could end this in a hurry,” Philbin replied. ”You want a quick end to this, send Kathie Lee over there.”

On ABC’s ”Politically Incorrect” on Monday, producers kept one of the talk show’s four guest chairs empty in honor of conservative commentator Barbara Olson, who died in one of the ill-fated planes last week.

”Things have changed in America, so we’re going to change our show a little bit,” host Bill Maher said. ”It’s going to be a little more serious. I think that’s OK. It’s OK with you?” he said, drawing applause from a Los Angeles studio audience.

But Maher added that humor could be appropriate and necessary.

”We’ve lived through shock, anger, grief, fear. We’re going to live through some more of it. But you know what? We need a release, too,” he said.

Syndicated newspaper humor columnist Dave Barry told readers in Monday’s column: ”No humor column today. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.”

Instead, Barry wrote about the nature of Americans.

Comedy Central has kept ”The Daily Show,” a satirical show that runs four times weekly at 11 p.m. Eastern, on reruns since the attack. The network decided Monday not to bring the show back live this week, spokesman Tony Fox said.

”When you’re talking about a show that is a news parody and the news is so consumed about this tragedy, what’s funny about what’s unfolding here? Nothing,” he said. ”As someone at the show said succinctly, irony is dead for the moment.”

Comedy Central also removed reruns of its sitcom about Bush, ”That’s My Bush!” from the air and has painstakingly gone through its tapes to make sure it is not showing anything insensitive, Fox said.

The humor magazine The Onion also said it would publish no new material this week, instead putting out a ”rerun issue” of light articles that were previously released.

”There will be humor, but not now,” said staffer Stephen Thompson. ”We’re not feeling especially relevant right now. What are we going to say? ‘Ooh, that Osama bin Laden, he’ll be the victim of our rapier wit!”’

NBC’s ”Tonight” show with Jay Leno and ”Late Night” with Conan O’Brien return to the air Tuesday.


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