After more than three decades in late-night television, David Letterman will say his final goodnights next year. He discussed his decision to retire at Thursday’s taping of The Late Show and will reportedly issue a statement sometime before the episode airs. Former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, who was a guest on Letterman’s Thursday show, broke the news via Twitter. CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor confirmed the news.
Letterman told the audience during the taping that he had informed CBS CEO Les Moonves of his decision, according to a press release. “The man who owns this network, Leslie Moonves, he and I have had a relationship for years and years and years, and we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance,” he said. “And I phoned him just before the program, and I said, ‘Leslie, it’s been great. You’ve been great. And the network has been great, but I’m retiring.”
He thanked the network and the people who have worked on the show. “What this means now is that Paul and I can be married,” he said, jokingly referring to bandleader Paul Shaffer.
Letterman said Thursday that he had not yet worked out a timetable with the network – “I think it will be at least a year or so” – but he did say it would be 2015, “for the love of God.” He received a standing ovation.
David Letterman’s Full Retirement Announcement
“When Dave decided on a one-year extension for his most recent contract, we knew this day was getting closer, but that doesn’t make the moment any less poignant for us,” Moonves said in a statement. “For 21 years, David Letterman has graced our network’s air in late night with wit, gravitas and brilliance unique in the history of our medium. During that time, Dave has given television audiences thousands of hours of comedic entertainment, the sharpest interviews in late night, and brilliant moments of candor and perspective around national events. He’s also managed to keep many celebrities, politicians and executives on their toes – including me. There is only one David Letterman.”
Following a short stint as a morning talk-show host, Letterman began hosting Late Night With David Letterman, which aired after The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, on NBC in 1982. Over the next decade, he developed his own dry, iconoclastic comedy style, poking fun at his network and his guests in an impish way. When Carson retired in 1993 and NBC chose to give offer the Tonight Show hosting position to Jay Leno – who retired for the second time in February – he jumped ship for CBS, which aired the first episode of The Late Show With David Letterman, which is filmed at New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater, during the same time slot as Leno in August 1993.
He has stayed with the network ever since and his Worldwide Pants production company also helped develop The Late Late Show, a show that competes in the same timeslot as Late Night and has featured hosts Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson.
Despite two years of ratings that exceeded Leno’s, The Late Show fell behind in ratings in the years since, other than a span when Conan O’Brien helmed The Tonight Show. Nevertheless, it led the time slot in ad revenue as recent as February, according to AdAge.
Letterman signed a new, two-year contract with CBS last year. To date, he has filmed nearly 6,000 episodes of the show. The show has been nominated for 108 Emmys and won eight. Late Night received a Peabody award, and Letterman was an honoree at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012. When his contract runs out, he will have spent 22 years as host of The Late Show with an additional 11 as host of Late Night – which makes for three more years than Carson spent as the host of The Tonight Show.