David Letterman late show

In a sobering two-minute segement on Thursday night’s show, David Letterman announced to the broadcast world that he will retire in 2015. In a manner typical of his Late Night performances, of which the recording is posted on NPR, he spoke to his live and television audiences with a tone that contained both candor, respect, and a dash of playfulness.

He said he spoke to the Owner of CBS, Leslie Moonves, before the night’s program to let Moonves know his intentions, and relaying that conversation to his audience, Letterman said, “I said, ‘Leslie, it’s been great, you’ve been great, the network’s been great, but I am retiring.’” And then, after a quick comment from his band’s frontman, Paul Shaffer, there was silence — complete silence that lasted only a second and a half but felt like a lifetime. The audience, alongside Shaffer, appeared stunned, both taken aback by the news but also unsure of whether or not it was a well-crafted joke.

As Letterman continued his speech, it became clearer that he was, in fact, serious. Although he managed to slip in a few more jokes — including the “real” reason for his departure, that he and Shaffer can then get married — his appreciation for his fans and CBS shined through the veil of insincerity. Letterman mentioned that the timing of when he will leave is not exact. There is no formal schedule yet set in place. It will likely happen after another year of being on the air; at some point in 2015 he and Shaffer “will be taking a hike,” he said.

The short announcement concluded with a standing ovation from his fans that lasted the better part of half a minute, the studio cameras panning around the back of the studio to showcase the applause from Letterman’s audience.

NPR’s analysis of the more revealing moments of the Late Show’s history discusses Letterman’s ability to bring out the best in his guest, such as when he had Cher and Sonny Bono singing on his program. Letterman’s cavalier attitude exists in all segments of the Late Show to the extent that audience members now see mistakes as part of the act. It is the odd, somewhat off-kilter nature of the show that brings people back for more and will likely keep them watching for the next year until Letterman actually does leave his chair to someone new.

Image courtesy of Hey Paul via Wikimedia Commons