O'Donnell would serve as the head writer through most of the rest of the show's run while Downey went back to Saturday Night Live in 1984.
Also on board, initially as a production assistant in charge of the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment, was 21-year-old Chris Elliott.
After a brief monologue, the very first comedy segment was a sarcastic tour of the studio.
The first guest, 31-year-old comedian and actor Bill Murray, came out in confrontational fashion, throwing jibes and accusations at the host as part of a knowing put-on.
All throughout 1981, in addition to guest-hosting the Tonight Show as outlined among the terms of his NBC contract, Letterman also frequently appeared as guest on the highly-rated program as the network groomed the 34-year-old for a new project.Letterman could not have a sidekick like Ed Mc Mahon, and Paul Shaffer's band could not include a horn section like Doc Severinsen's.Letterman was told he could not book old-school showbiz guests such as James Stewart, George Burns, or Buddy Hackett, who were fixtures on Johnny's show (the fact that Tonight had long moved to Hollywood and Late Night was taped in New York helped minimize guest overlap).Up until this point, the three competing television broadcast networks had tried to create talk shows to compete with the success of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but all had failed.A total of 1,819 shows were broadcast during its -year run (an episode on January 16, 1991 went un-aired due to preemption for coverage of the beginning of the Gulf War; the program already had been taped before word came out of Baghdad that United States airstrikes were beginning).