When David Letterman announced that he would be leaving The Late Show earlier this year, it raised more questions than answers: Would he do another project? What’s the plan for the final shows? What will become of Paul Shaffer, his musical director and comedic foil of 32 years?
“I’m not retiring, as many people have assumed,” Shaffer tells Rolling Stone. “I gotta keep playing and want to keep making music. I’m excited about the fact that after almost 33 years, my schedule will open up a little bit.”
Shaffer says he doesn’t know what Letterman has planned for his post-Late Show career, but intimated that the host may not not just ride off into the sunset. “It’s all new to both of us, but I don’t think he’s just going to stay home with his feet up,” says Shaffer. “But on the other hand, we’ve both worked so hard for such a long time, nobody’s done it this long. Even a showbiz-obsessed person like myself has to look back and say, ‘Gee, maybe I did accomplish a lot.'”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musical director admits, though, that Letterman’s announcement has rejuvenated his love of being on the show. “I’m already thinking about how much I’m going to miss it and enjoying every show like I never did before,” Shaffer says. “Now that I know the end is in sight, I’m not taking it for granted anymore. It’s still so much fun to do and it’s even more fun now that the end is in sight. I’m appreciating it even more.”
Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra are still in the planning stages for the final shows, but the bandleader does have a few ideas in mind. “[Bassist] Will Lee, who is the only musician who’s been with us since day one, said we should start playing the songs again that we were playing in those first weeks, like [Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’] ‘Tears of a Clown.’ I thought that was a good idea and we’ll start doing that.”
Less than a week after Letterman’s announcement, CBS revealed that Stephen Colbert had signed a five-year agreement with the network and will begin hosting following Letterman’s departure in 2015. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead,” Colbert said at the time. “I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”
Letterman shared details of his retirement in a 10-minute on-air speech, saying that he had informed CBS CEO Leslie Moonves that he would not be re-signing a contract that is set to expire next year. He also spoke briefly of his post-retirement plans.
“What this means now,” said Letterman, “is that Paul and I can be married.”