End of an era

David Letterman announces he will retire from Late Show in 2015

David Letterman

Jeffrey R. Staab/AP

David Letterman, one of the most famous and influential TV hosts of all time, has announced his retirement from CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman.” Letterman made his statement on today’s taping of the show, which will air tonight at 11:35. He said that he phoned the president of the network, Leslie Moonves, and said “Leslie, it’s been great, you’ve been great, and the network has been great, but I’m retiring.”

Letterman will step down in 2015, after 22 years of hosting for CBS, though he added that “We don’t have the timetable for this precisely down.” No successor has been named yet, which means that the internet is full of speculation about who could replace him, with the name of every possible comedian being floated. You’re likely to see some more names floated on this site tomorrow morning after Letterman’s announcement airs.

Before starting his CBS show, Letterman became world-famous during his 10 years hosting “Late Night With David Letterman” on NBC. Following Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Letterman and his writers (including head writer Merrill Markoe) turned Late Night into a parody of talk shows and popular culture in general; the show’s ironic take on everything from show business to NBC’s then-owner, General Electric, made it perhaps the most influential comedy show of the ’80s, and many current late-night hosts, including Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart, have acknowledged their debt to the style of Letterman’s NBC show.

When NBC passed him over as Carson’s successor on The Tonight Show, instead giving the job to Jay Leno (who had become famous as one of the most frequent guests on Letterman’s show), Letterman accepted an offer to host a competing show at CBS. Though he rarely beat Leno in the ratings, Letterman did well enough that he managed to make Late Show With David Letterman the first talk show that could truly compete with The Tonight Show head-to-head, paving the way for other competitors like Kimmel. Letterman’s recurring bits, including his “Top 10” lists, have become iconic, but it’s his attitude – cranky, cynical about pop culture and his own guests, willing to make fun of his format and his audience – that has been perhaps the most influential. We’ll have more about Dave, and who might succeed him, tomorrow.