Late Show: Grief-Stricken Letterman, Tearful Rather

September 18, 2001 -- (ABCNEWS.com) — America's late-night show hosts are getting back to work, but with a lot less comedy. The sometimes scabrous David Letterman and Bill Maher returned last night on a somber note

Letterman chose to skip his usual monologue and "Top Ten" list. The Late Show began with him seated behind his desk. He was later joined by Regis Philbin and Dan Rather, who tearfully recited "America the Beautiful."

On ABC's Politically Incorrect, 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 hijacked planes last week. NBC's Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night With Conan O'Brien return to the air tonight.

Letterman: 'Giuliani Is the Personification of Courage'The Indianapolis-born Letterman has been working in New York for 20 years, and his show is broadcast from the heart of Times Square. He said he returned to the airways in response to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's appeal for New Yorkers to get back to their routines.

"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."

Rather, who has been working extended shifts as the CBS News anchor, described what it was like at the crash site. Fighting back tears, he told audiences that they'll never hear the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" the same way again.

Rather also pledged his support to President Bush. "Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where," Rather said.

Philbin provided some comic relief, telling Letterman, "You want a quick end to this, send Kathie Lee over there."

"I was just down there at the bomb site," Philbin said. "It was quite an experience, and it was something to see. We could only get so close to it, but I think everybody is in sort of a state of shock right now about what has happened."

Maher: Using Humor to Recover Maher says tragedies like the Oklahoma City bombing have taught him that audiences will tell you through their reactions when they are comfortable with a subject. "I've never gone out there with the quest to be funny," he said. "I go out there with the quest to be honest.

"There's a lot of places where exaggeration, sarcasm, belittlement — all tools of humor — are going to come into play as weapons in our arsenal to recover from this," he said.

Maher told audiences he was paid for his week off and he's donating the money to the relief effort.