David Letterman has taken many cues over the course of his career from Johnny Carson, his mentor and early champion. But retirement plans may not be one of them.
When Carson signed off “The Tonight Show” in 1992, he left the spotlight for good. By all accounts, he considered himself retired from the business, and never pursued ample opportunities to try something else in TV.
Letterman doesn’t sound like he’s looking to make such a segue, judging by his recent comments and associates who know him well. Letterman, who at 68 is two years older than Carson was when he signed off, is retiring from the daily grind of hosting a latenight talk show. But he’s dropped hints that he’s thinking about new possibilities for his post-“Late Show” years.
There is no doubt Letterman enjoys interviewing people in front of an audience. After 30-plus years of doing five- to 10-minute interview segments, primarily with celebs on the promo trail, it’s understood that Letterman is interested in doing more long-form interviews, whether on TV or in other forums. He demonstrated that last year when he conducted an hourlong Q&A with Jerry Seinfeld at the Paley Center for Media in New York last year, not long after announcing his exit from “The Late Show.” He’s done similar extended interviews before a live audience with notables including Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Maddow at his alma mater, Ball State U., in Muncie, Ind.
There’s been speculation that Letterman will pursue a long-form interview show or podcast. In his recent interview with New York Times, he noted his admiration for Jane Pauley for carving a new niche for herself as a correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning.” When pressed on the subject of his future in TV, Letterman told the Times: “It just depends on the number of bridges I’ve burned.”
Letterman has expressed admiration for Seinfeld’s do-it-yourself approach taken on the digital series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” But associates say it’s highly unlikely he would be interested in hanging out his own digital shingle, even though he has brand-name recognition.
For now, Letterman appears to be keeping his options open, without the intention of bowing out as completely as Carson did a generation ago. He’s been candid with “Late Show” viewers in the year since announcing his retirement about wanting to ease up his work schedule in order to spend more time with his 11-year-old son, Harry.
Letterman is known to be an enthusiastic fisherman. His first summer in 33 years without daily TV duties is likely to spent in large part on his Montana ranch with a line in the water, waiting to see what may bite.