David Letterman and the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin were among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night. That show was recorded to air 3 weeks from now on CBS, but tonight, Letterman hosted the Led Zep guys — Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones — on his “Late Show.”

And it was terrible.

I’m a longtime Letterman fan, but I’ve gotten on his case a couple of times this year, most notably for giving Theresa Caputo, the phony psychic, a platform to spew her nonsense. Tonight, he was either lazy or uninterested in the three rock legends, so his questions for them were positively lame, along the lines of “How would I describe your music?” It was clear that Letterman was unfamiliar with Led Zeppelin, one of the most famous bands in rock and roll history. But with a staff as large as his, someone should have taken some time to put together some bullet points he could discuss with them. At the very least, he could have asked Paul Shaffer for some ideas.

I’ve never interviewed any of the three, but let’s see what I can come up with right now, off the top of my head. Think of it as the Top Ten Questions David Letterman Could Have Asked Led Zeppelin:

  • Which one of you recruited the others to form the band in the first place?
  • Was coming to America and being successful here important to you?
  • Tell me about the first time you played a concert in the US.
  • How important was FM radio to your success, since you never had a Top 40 single?
  • After John Bonham’s death in 1980, the band broke up and you went on to other projects, but did you miss playing together? 
  • Did you keep in touch and discuss working together again?
  • You reunited in 2007 for a tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of your record label, Atlantic. How important was he to your success?
  • What was the genesis of your most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven”?
  • Led Zeppelin had a rowdy reputation on tour. Were you ever banned from hotels, and if so, why?
  • How cool was it to have a jet with your name on the side to take you to your concerts?

That took me maybe three minutes, just spitballing ideas onto my keyboard. Those questions would form the basis of a pretty good interview with Plant/Page/Jones, if I do say so myself, but Letterman didn’t ask anything remotely as interesting. Instead, he stumbled through the segment, as if just having these guys in his guest chairs was enough.

It wasn’t.

If only Letterman’s staff had helped prepare him as well as President Obama’s writers did when he said a few words about Led Zeppelin at a White House ceremony before the Kennedy Center Honors. I have no idea if Obama actually knows the first thing about the band, but with a little behind-the-scenes prep work, he sure looks like it (although he doesn’t warble any of their tunes as he did Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” earlier this year) …