With his nemesis finally put away for good, the greatest late night host in history, David Letterman, announced today that 2015 will be his final year hosting CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman.
The news initially came from an unconventional source. Mike Mills, the bassist for REM, broke the news over Twitter. The band performs on Thursday's broadcast, which was taping when Letterman surprised the audience. It was not long after that CNN's Brian Stelter confirmed Mills' report. Here's the video:
Thus ends the long late night battle between Letterman and Jay Leno, as documented in The Late Shift by Bill Carter. The two rival comedians and late night hosts feuded for years over The Tonight Show and now, finally, the dispute can be put to rest. Leno has moved on, Letterman will retire, and the kids can fight over the turf they once coveted.
Letterman never hosted The Tonight Show after he ultimately left NBC in 1993, played out to Bruce Springstein's Glory Days, but he created his own show, The Late Show, and made piles of money for his network. Age has taken its toll on Letterman — it has been ages since it's looked like he's having fun out there — but he genuinely seemed happier in the post-Leno landscape, so his abrupt retirement when his contract with CBS ends next year was a surprise. CBS president Les Moonves has said Letterman will decide when to exit his show; there would be no push for a youngster to take over, like at NBC.
Letterman can ride into the sunset knowing he established his own late night institution. Carson would be proud. Whoever takes over will have mammoth shoes to fill. Right now it seems Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show, has first right of refusal to fill Letterman's seat, unless CBS chooses to buy out his contract.
(Now, about that Leno return — we're assuming it won't happen. Jay Leno has come back before, but Jimmy Fallon's ratings success makes a repeat of Conan-gate way less likely. But do not put anything past Leno.)
For no particular reason other than I said so, read this wonderful Letterman profile written by Peter Kaplan, who was a lifelong fan until his death late last year, and then watch this video of a giddy Letterman crushing things with a hydraulic press.