On the heels of Netflix unveiling a deal for a six-episode series, Letterman told Variety that the untitled show came together in a “segmented” way as he began speaking to potential partners about the kind of program he wanted to tackle for the post-“Late Show” chapter of his career. The late-night legend credits the partners at production entity RadicalMedia, his CAA rep Bryan Lourd, and Netflix executives with assembling the basic structure of the show that he hopes to begin shooting in September.
“I got tired of people saying ‘What do you want to do?,’ ” Letterman said. “I did what I wanted to do for 30-plus years. Netflix and the Radical brothers put this show idea together. The thing I like about it is that it fits exactly what I want to do and it’s with people I’m fond of working with. It’s not 10 hours a day, five days a week.”
Letterman said the concept is to enhance lengthy sit-down interviews with field reporting, with or without the subject. He cited President Donald Trump as a person he would like to have on the program.
“I’d like to talk to President Trump. I’ve known the guy for 25-30 years,” he said. “I’d like to go back to New York where he was a kid and start there. I’d like to just ask him about the change in him as a man, where did it come from, how did it begin and where is it going.”
Pope Francis is another person on his wish-list. It’s clear that Letterman is looking to focus on weightier subjects and a more diverse range of personalities than those that typically populate late-night TV chat segments.
Letterman said he was encouraged to make the Netflix deal after an enriching experience fronting an episode of National Geographic Channel’s “Years of Living Dangerously” series in which he traveled to India to examine primitive living conditions. He greatly enjoyed the depth of reporting and production resources brought to that episode in an effort to understand the challenges of bringing electrical power to the most impoverished regions.
“I can’t help but learn things,” Letterman said. “That’s very exciting to me.”
Letterman said he already has one interview booked for the Netflix show but he wouldn’t divulge the name. “It’s somebody who means a great deal to me,” he said. “The upbringing of this person is so multi-faceted it makes your head spin.”
The plan for the new series is the polar opposite of the daily production schedule that ruled his professional life for more than three decades. He admitted that it will probably be “very strange” for him to settle into a new routine when production begins in earnest.
“For so many years, it was — 1:30 I had lunch, 2:30 I took a shower, 3:30 I put on a suit, 4:30 I put on makeup, and then we did the show,” Letterman said of the “Late Show” and “Late Night” routine that he kept from 1982 until signing off in May 2015. “The nice thing about this show is I hope we can construct it in a more leisurely and more thoughtful way.”
The deal with Netflix covers just six hourlong episodes, but both sides have the chance to revisit the contract when those are completed. Letterman hinted that he may try to move on to focusing on more socially conscious efforts outside of TV. He cited as a role model his longtime friend Al Franken, who transitioned from comedy to becoming a senator from his home state of Minnesota — although Letterman was quick to clarify that he doesn’t plan to seek elected office.
“I have a great deal of admiration for (Franken),” Letterman said. “He didn’t need to stop what he was doing. He could have kept on cashing big show business checks. But he saw a greater calling. … I would like to find something that might be a little more beneficial to humanity. I know that sounds silly, but I think you’ve got to make a difference somehow.”
But for the immediate future, Letterman is energized about getting back to the business of producing and fronting a TV program with a clear-cut end date. “After doing 6,000 shows, six sounds just about right,” he said.