WASHINGTON – His late-night show may be down in ratings, but Dave Letterman proved Friday he’s still a favorite with many Washington-area fans.
Some spent the night on the city’s sidewalks, while others braved the sporadic rain and called in late to work to stand in a snaking line outside the Warner Theatre in hopes of snagging one of 200 stand-by tickets to the comedian’s Friday night show here.
“I don’t have classes on Friday, so it’s not a big deal to spend the night,” said Jason Bagshaw, 19, a George Washington University student. “I’m just a great fan of Letterman.”
Bagshaw and two fellow classmates arrived at the Warner Theatre steps with a blanket and a lot of patience at 8:30 p.m. Thursday to begin a 13-and-a-half-hour wait. Even though they received the first three stand-by tickets, odds were they would not see the show.
Since it was only in town for one night, people who sent away earlier for reserved tickets were not likely to miss it, said John Bobey, assistant audience coordinator. “But we’re going to have lemonade and iced tea” for the stand-by crowd, he said.
Last Friday the show was taped at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University and nobody from the stand-by audience got in, Bobey said.
The Late Show with David Letterman announced in September its plans to stop in Washington as part of a four-city tour. The “Friday Night on the Road” idea is new. In other years, the program taped from one city other than New York for an entire week. But this year, programmers decided they could reach a larger fan base this way.
Letterman spokesmen said the tour was not an attempt to increase ratings. But Nielsen ratings indicate the show could use a boost. A Nielsen spokeswoman, Anne Elliott, said when Letterman’s show premiered on CBS in the 1993-’94 season, it was the top-rated show in the 11:30 p.m. time slot. Now, the show is third, behind the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and ABC News Nightline.
With 1,200 seats, the Warner Theatre is the largest venue on the tour, which also will make stops in Chicago and Miami. But the larger theater still could not accommodate all the fans.
The show received more than 25,000 mail requests for free pairs of tickets to the Washington taping, and 115,000 requests overall for the tour.
At least 230 people lined up for the stand-by tickets, which were given away Friday at 10 a.m.
Fans in line were enthusiastic, despite some scuffles for position.
“God Bless everyone, especially David Letterman,” said Alexandria resident Mally Esfandiari, 52, after receiving her stand-by ticket.
Esfandiari said she arrived outside the theater Thursday at 8:30 p.m., but left shortly after because no one lined up behind her. There were only a few people in front of her.
When she returned at 5 a.m. Friday, she was greeted by a line of almost 40 people. When she tried to return to her original spot in line, an argument broke out between her and other fans. After a few minutes the Late Show staff hushed the crowd and forced Esfandiari to the back of the line, in 39th position.
Many who lined up said they turned out for Letterman, not the guests. “He doesn’t come here that much,” said George Morgan, 19, a George Washington University student from Miami.
Heading Friday night’s lineup was defeated presidential nominee Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader from Kansas.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen until the news [Thursday] night,” said Ella Ames, 26, of Alexandria, the last person in a line of more than 230. “Our boss isn’t at the office, so we figured we could be here all afternoon.” -30-