The greatest city in time travel

Throughout the run of “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC, and on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” from 1994 through September 2001, the opening announce, by Bill Wendell or later Alan Kalter, would include two different jokes — a humorous description of New York (“From New York … one of the most exciting cities in the Tri-State area …”) and then a humorous description of Dave (“and now … a man who thinks he can buy his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame … David Letterman!”)

When “Late Show” returned to the air following 9/11, the humorous description of New York was eliminated, replaced by “From New York … the greatest city in the world …”, which has been in place ever since.

As a result of the writer’s strike, both Letterman and Leno have reached much farther back into the archives than usual for reruns. Tonight’s Letterman, for example, is a 1998 episode featuring Cher as the guest. I hadn’t seen any of the old-old reruns until tonight, and I was startled to discover that they have dubbed “the greatest city” phrase over the New York joke in the opening credits. Alan Kalter’s voice sounds different saying “the greatest city in the world” than it does for the rest of the announce.

I understand the sentiment that was involved in eliminating the New York joke — even though there’s no lack of New York-mocking humor elsewhere in the show — but eliminating it even from reruns seems like overkill somehow.

Meanwhile, Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel have all announced that they will return to the airwaves Jan. 2 without their writing staffs. Letterman, from all accounts, is working on an agreement with the Writers Guild of America that would allow him, as well as Craig Ferguson, to come back in January with their writing staffs. (Letterman can make such an agreement because he owns his own show, as well as Ferguson’s. Leno, O’Brien and Kimmel’s shows are owned by their respective networks, which aren’t making any deals with WGA at the moment.)

If Letterman’s deal happens, it will be interesting to see if Letterman plus his writing staff can trump Leno in the ratings, something that hasn’t happen since the first year or two of Letterman’s tenure at CBS.