NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The man who has been synonymous with late nights on CBS for more than two decades will soon be giving up his prestigious post.
“Late Show” host David Letterman announced during the taping of his show Thursday that he will be retiring sometime in 2015, when his contract expires.
As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, Letterman said he called CBS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves earlier Thursday to make the announcement.
“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. And I phoned him just before the program, and I said ‘Leslie, it’s been great, you’ve been great, the network has been great, but I’m retiring,’” Letterman said during Thursday’s taping.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Letterman’s audience members were waiting for the punch line before they realized Letterman was serious.
“We thought he was joking at first,” said Cindi Escudero. “We thought, it’s like, is this a joke?”
“I was very sad,” another audience member said. “I was kind of disappointed.”
On “The Late Show,” Letterman has roasted politicians, actors, and other figures of our time, and regaling his many fans with his “Top 10 Lists.”
Letterman could not hold back the jokes in making his big announcement Thursday, as he told his audience how he broke the news to his son, Harry.
“I was goofing around with Harry, and I said to Harry, ‘What if I retire?’ (He said), ‘Why would you retire?’ And I said, ‘Well, because then I would be able to spend more time with the family,’” Letterman said, “and Harry looked at me and said, ‘Which part of the family?’”
PHOTOS: Letterman Through The Years
Letterman said his longtime band leader Paul Shaffer would also be retiring.
Letterman – who will soon turn 67 – said the time he has spent at CBS has been great, but it is time to move on.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Moonves praised the longtime “Late Night” host.
“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. 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. His greatness will always be remembered here, and he will certainly sit among the pantheon of this business. On a personal note, it’s been a privilege to get to know Dave and to enjoy a terrific relationship. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye. Fortunately, we won’t have to do that for another year or so. Until then, we look forward to celebrating Dave’s remarkable show and incredible talents,” the statement read.
Loyal Letterman viewers could not agree more. Audience member Doug Simila said weeknights just would not be the same.
“I can imagine anybody else it’s going to be able to fill his shoes, and do what he’s been able to do for all these years,” he said.
Letterman was born in Indianapolis in 1947, and began his career as a local radio talk show host and TV weatherman there.
He got his television start on the national scale in 1978, on the CBS variety series “Mary,” starring Mary Tyler Moore. Months later, he paid his first visit to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” — marking the first of 22 appearances. He also guest-hosted “Tonight” numerous times, CBS News recalled.
In 1980, Letterman started hosting the Emmy Award-winning morning comedy-variety program, “The David Letterman Show,” which ran for three months on NBC. He followed that up with “Late Night with David Letterman,” which premiered in February 1982 and ran for 11 years.
Letterman jumped to CBS in 1993 after NBC went with Jay Leno as the new host of the “Tonight Show.” To accommodate the new late night program, CBS purchased and renovated the Ed Sullivan Theater, 1697 Broadway, where “The Ed Sullivan Show” was taped from 1948 until 1971 and which Letterman has used for his show for his entire CBS run.
In 2011, Letterman received the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence at Comedy Central’s first annual The Comedy Awards, CBS News recalled. Letterman has also won two American Comedy Awards as funniest male performer in a television series. He was honored as “Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host” at the 31st annual People’s Choice Awards in 2005.
In total, Letterman’s shows have received 108 Emmy nominations and eight wins. He also won a Peabody Award in 1992.
On the occasion of Letterman’s 25th anniversary with “The Late Show” back in 2007, CBS News identified the following milestones:
• Aug. 30, 1993 – More than 23 million viewers tune in for the premiere of “The Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS. Guests include Bill Murray, who spraypainted “Dave” on Letterman’s desk, and signer Billy Joel. News anchor Tom Brokaw and actor Paul Newman also make surprise appearances.
• March 31, 1994: Madonna makes a famous appearance on Letterman, which her uses of expletives made the most censored episode of any American network talk show in history;
• April 12, 1995: As CBS News put it, “Dave gets a birthday gift he’ll never forget when drew Barrymore jumps on his desk and flashes her breasts to a stunned Letterman.”
• Dec. 31, 1999: “The Late Show” rings in the year 2000 with a prime-time special, featuring “The King of Queens” star Kevin James, a performance by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and cameo appearances by Dick Clark and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
• Jan. 14, 2000: Letterman undergoes quintuple bypass heart surgery at New York Hospital. He returns on Feb. 21 and brings his doctors and nurses on stage to personally thank them. The following night Bill Cosby becomes the first person other than Letterman to host the “Late Show.”
• Sept. 17, 2001: Letterman returns to the airwaves for the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in a show that featured Dan Rather and Regis Philbin. The Emmy Award-winning broadcast was hailed by the New York Daily News as “one of the purest, most honest and important moments in TV history” and a valuable service to the community, CBS News recalled.
• Nov. 4, 2003: Letterman proudly announces that “last night at 11:58, I became a father” to his first son, Harry Joseph Letterman – now 10.
• May 9, 2006: Britney Spears makes a surprise visit to the show and announces to Letterman that she’s having her second child. “Don’t worry, Dave,” she says. “It’s not yours.”
The memorable broadcasts have continued in more recent years.
• Sept. 19, 2012: President Barack Obama appears on “The Late Show” in the midst of his reelection campaign, slamming rival Mitt Romney for the Republican candidate’s remark about “47 percent of the people” being Obama supporters who are dependent on government and identify as victims.
• Feb. 9, 2014: CBS airs Letterman’s interview with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at the Ed Sullivan Theater – in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ American television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the very same building.
Letterman said during his Thursday taping that he has done 4,014 shows for CBS so far.
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