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David Letterman has booked an all-star guest list for his new Netflix talk show series, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.” Barack Obama will be his first guest in Jan.
USA TODAY

What does an interview with David Letterman look like in 2018? A little longer, a little less aggressive and a little more ponderous than the Letterman we remember.

The comedian and late-night host, 70, retired from CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015 after a 33-year late-night career on NBC and CBS. But two years later, and after growing a now-infamous beard, Letterman is back with a six-episode monthly interview series on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, which debuted its first episode Friday with former President Barack Obama as the guest. 

As Obama so astutely noted during their long interview, “It’s a whole new ballgame now, man.” The Letterman that came out of retirement to interview friends and icons is not exactly the same one that roasted celebrities with his Top 10 Lists. The result is a more reflective, if a little blander, host. 

Letterman made his name in late night with experimental comedy, and later, a bold and antagonistic interview style that once led Cher to call him an “(expletive) hole” on air. But it’s clear that the new show is shying away from that part of his persona. It probably helps that the guest roster includes great foils for him like George Clooney, Jay-Z, Howard Stern, Tina Fey and Malala Yousafzai – as a late-night host, Letterman at times had been noticeably unenthused to interview random starlets or young celebrities about upcoming projects.  

More: Letterman sets guests for Netflix series

Letterman and Obama’s conversation was long and free-wheeling, ranging from discussions of the president’s post-Oval Office vacations to combatting confirmation bias to his “dad dancing” skills. There’s a bit of an awkward transition halfway through the episode, to an interview with Rep. John Lewis in Selma, Ala., about his legacy from the civil rights movement, before flipping back to Obama in the studio (it is only in his mini-interview with Lewis that anyone mentions President Trump).

The new format is looser and less comedic than a traditional late-night interview. The jokes were fewer and further between, and Letterman doesn’t egg Obama for a sound bite or…