A somber Letterman returns to air

David Letterman returned to the late night lineup last night for the first time since the terrorist attacks.

The show opened without theme music or announcer, and the usually zany host was anything but, supplanting his monologue with an explanation of why he was back on the air - Mayor Giuliani's call for New Yorkers to try to return to work - and a confession that he did not trust his own judgment as to what was the right thing to do.

He had high praise for Giuliani's handling of the crisis and for the resuce workers, fireman and policemen of the city with the caveat that others had put it far better than he could. That point, at least, proved debatable as Letterman found just the right tone for his return.

His first guest, CBS anchor Dan Rather, was moved to tears as he discussed the firemen and the fact that the verse of "America the Beautiful" about alabaster cities "undimmed by human tears," no longer applied.

The somber tone of the show was lightened slightly by Letterman's other guest, Regis Philbin. Jay Leno resumes his show tonight, with scheduled guest Senator John McCain.

"We'll know we're okay when David Letterman can put this tragedy on his Top 10 list and people laugh," Psychologist Paul Kettle told The Washington Post yesterday in a story about self-censorship in the wake of the terrorist tragedy. "But I can't imagine that happening any time soon, if ever." - John Eggerton