Videos: When A 'Letterman' Writer Came To L.A. To Be A TV News Reporter
This is what happens when an Emmy Award-winning Letterman writer comes to L.A. and becomes a lifestyle reporter.
In 1986, Merrill Markoe left her gig as the head writer of Late Night With David Letterman and came back to Los Angeles to be KCOP 13's lifestyle reporter. Although she deserves just as much credit as David Letterman for shaping the show's sardonic and absurd sense of humor (most notably she created "Stupid Pet Tricks"), it wasn't until her "Merrill's L.A." lifestyle segments for channel 13's Friday night news that she got the opportunity to be in front of the camera and holding the mic. "I was thrilled to be taking that step," Markoe told LAist. "Channel 13 was very adventurous to take me on with my crazy point of view and background."
Through the roughly 35 or so weekly segments, that aired mostly in 1986, about the wonderfully strange and very-L.A. entrepreneurs and working people, Markoe earned herself the title of "the weirdest, most disturbing lifestyle reporter to hit the tube in some time" from Los Angeles Magazine. "That made me laugh really hard," she said. "I was kinda proud."
Each "Merrill's L.A." comes loaded with Markoe's own brand of offbeat humor and curiosity for the city and its people. "When I am not visible, usually I am smiling and genuinely interested in what they are saying," she explains. This genuine interest is ideal for drawing mostly sincere responses from her subjects, though sometimes they were 'in' on the joke themselves. She didn't mind. "A lot of these people were goofing back at me and that was fine with me. I had no particular required response I wanted from someone."
"I am a kind of an archeologist of pop culture," says Markoe. "Also as a writer, I have a lot of questions about people and why they behave the way they do. If you show up with a camera, they will answer anything you ask them."
Each "Merrill's L.A." segment is great in their own right, but Markoe is especially fond of her segment on the waitresses of DuPar's and Canter's we posted last week. Sadly, another favorite of hers and the KCOP newsroom she has yet to uncover: her visit to the grand opening of a TCBY frozen yogurt franchise owned by Mickey Rooney. "When I asked Mickey why he was now in the yogurt business—if it was an old Rooney family recipe—he turned on me in a rage," she describes. "He said, 'Sweetheart, don't mess with me because I can get really nasty with you. And we don't want that because I love you too much.'"
"No one could believe how livid he got on camera. I wish I could find the damn thing."
Thankfully, Markoe has been digitizing her video archives, uploading several "Merrill's L.A." segments along with many others she did for other shows (including Letterman) to her Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Check out some of the "Merrill's L.A." segments she's been able to find and upload:
"Meet the Detectives of L.A."
"One of the detectives I contacted from the phone book was Anthony Pellicano, who was later indicted by the feds for fraud and wiretapping and is still in prison. When I met him he was in his mid-thirties and sitting in a small office full of tape recorders."
"Meet the Bail Bondsmen (and Women)"
Bonus: here's the uncut video of the duet between Juanita Martinez Goldstein and her dog Juan.
"Meet Art Elkind, Inventor of the Chili Dog"
"[Art Elkind] was goofing back with me and I loved it. He was so charming."
"Meet the Biker Wrecking Guys"
"A Consultation With A Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon"
"Who Are The 'Two Guys From Italy'?"
A visit to Clifton's Cafeteria