Late night talk show legend David Letterman will announce his 2015 retirement on tonight’s edition of Late Show with David Letterman. When a monstrous announcement like this is to be made, a press release is usually sent to media outlets or it is agreed that the star will break the news on air (or in Johnny Carson’s case, make a surprise-to-the-executives announcement during the upfront presentation to advertisers). Tonight’s Late Show was supposed to be that announcement for the man who started the CBS late night dynasty 22 years ago. But how did the world find out about Letterman’s retirement? Twitter.
Mike Mills, one of the founding members of the rock group R.E.M. is scheduled to appear on tonight’s show. Late Show with David Letterman, like most late night talk shows, is recorded during the afternoon and aired at night. Soon after the taping, Mills tweeted out:
Dave just announced his retirement #2015 #muchlovedave
— Mike Mills (@m_millsey) April 3, 2014
Way to steal the man’s thunder, man.
David Letterman’s legacy at CBS, and on late night television itself, is vastly important in the history of television. After performing on and serving as a guest host on the long-running The Tonight Show several times, NBC allowed him to create his own 12:35 am show, Late Night with David Letterman, which was unprecedented and the only variety show on that late at night, making NBC hundreds of millions of dollars. After 11 years following Carson, the talented comedian was famously passed over by NBC for Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show (which served as the inspiration for best-selling book The Late Shift by Bill Carter). It was then that he created his own late night dynasty at CBS, including executive producing a 12:35 am program The Late Late Show. After all of that talent, hard work, and late night brilliance, the man has his legs cut out from under him by an overeager tweeter who couldn’t wait seven hours before spilling the beans.
In the aftermath of Mills’ tweet, a portion of Letterman’s statement to his audience was released. “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, and the network has been great, but I’m retiring,’” we’ll hear him say later tonight. “We don’t have the timetable for this precisely down. I think it will be at least a year or so, but sometime in the not too distant future, 2015 for the love of God, in fact, Paul and I will be wrapping things up.” And still after that, CBS went live with the video.
The obvious question that arises is who will take over Dave’s seat in 2015. Both Letterman and Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson have contracts ending in 2015. According to late night historian and New York Times writer Bill Carter, Ferguson has had a “Prince of Wales” clause in his previous contracts, meaning, he has the first rights to inherit Late Show if Letterman were to leave early. However, CBS would have the ability to pay off the Scottish host if they want to go in a different direction, something competing network NBC has had to do a couple of times. The Tonight Show finally handed the reigns off to the younger, more social-media savvy host, Jimmy Fallon, who has started off with a bang in the ratings and has held strong in the war for late night.
With late night cable talk shows popping up left and right, finding a likable proven piece of talent could be difficult if executives choose not to transition Ferguson into the show (there’s also the possibility that they would have two host chairs to fill if they pass on Ferguson and he walks away from the network altogether). CBS could pluck someone with a bit of national traction: Pete Holmes, Chris Hardwick, Conan O’Brien (however unlikely). Even Louis C.K. had a story arc in his FX show about being groomed to take over for Letterman. Chris Rock’s still only 49 years old and seems to have plenty of energy left. Maybe the imminent departure of Chelsea Handler from E! will begin a courtship with the only woman in a late night hosting chair, although networks might rationalize the brash — and hugely successful — host may only be appropriate on network television at 12:30 a.m. And let’s not forget Daniel Tosh, who has hosted the enormously popular Tosh.0 on Comedy Central since 2009. The network has already re-upped the show through 2016, though, so there may be some scheduling conflicts
Late Show will certainly never be the same without Dave, soon to turn 67 years old. The man got to pick his time to go after struggling with severe heart problems, battling extortion attempts, and comforting the country in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. At this late stage of the game, one of his final moments of true glory and admiration would be tonight when he gets the opportunity to announce his retirement himself on his own terms to his own beloved viewers. If dozens of live studio audience members were able to keep their yaps shut out of respect for a living comedy legend, couldn’t one measly bassist chill out for a few hours? Twitter… it’s the end of the world as we know it.