David Letterman announced during the Thursday taping of “The Late Show” that he will retire in 2015.
The decision was all his, he told the studio audience.
“I phoned [CBS chairman Leslie Moonves] 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,'” Letterman told the crowdThursday afternoon.
Letterman, 66, said he doesn’t “have the timing precisely down,” and that he’ll step down in another year or so. “Sometime in the not too distant future, 2015 for the love of God.”
“I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all the people who worked here, all the people in the theater, all the people on staff, everybody at home, thank you very much,” Letterman said, giving a shout out to longtime bandleader Paul Shaffer. “What this is means is that Paul and I can be married.”
Shortly after Letterman made the announcement, Moonves released a statement paying tribute to Letterman’s history at the network.
“When Dave decided on a one-year extension for his most recent contract, we knew this day was getting closer, but that doesn’t make the moment any less poignant for us,” Moonves said, and continued:
For 21 years, David Letterman has graced our network’s air in late night with wit, gravitas and brilliance unique in the history of our medium. During that time, Dave has given television audiences thousands of hours of comedic entertainment, the sharpest interviews in late night, and brilliant moments of candor and perspective around national events. He’s also managed to keep many celebrities, politicians and executives on their toes – including me. There is only one David Letterman. His greatness will always be remembered here, and he will certainly sit among the pantheon of this business. On a personal note, it’s been a privilege to get to know Dave and to enjoy a terrific relationship. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye. Fortunately, we won’t have to do that for another year or so. Until then, we look forward to celebrating Dave’s remarkable show and incredible talents.”
The news initially broke on Twitter when former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills — playing with Thursday’s “Late Show” musical guest Joseph Arthur — sent out a tweet to the world.
Letterman helped redefine the concept of late-night television on NBC’s “Late Night” in the ’80s and later moved to CBS in 1993, igniting the “late night wars” in which he did battle with Jay Leno, who scored the coveted gig replacing Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
Letterman currently has the longest late-night reign in TV history with 32 years. (Carson served for 30.) Leno left “The Tonight Show” in February after 22 years, replaced by Jimmy Fallon. Rumors of Letterman’s retirement have been swirling for a while; last fall, he signed a contract with CBS to stay through 2015.
In a recent interview with long-time “rival” Oprah, Letterman talked briefly about his plans for retirement. Basically, he said, he had come to an understanding with Moonves.
“He and I have an agreement. When he wants me to go, all he’s gotta do is call and say, ‘You know, Dave, it’s time to go.” And I’ll go,” Letterman told Oprah.
“I will miss doing what I’m doing,” Letterman said. “But I won’t feel like I have left anything on the table.”
David @Letterman announced he’s retiring in 2015. It’s been 31 incredible years. Television won’t be the same without you, Dave.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 3, 2014
David @Letterman is the best there is and ever was.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 3, 2014
Letterman broke the mold for not just Late Night, but TV itself. He’s a vanguard- his influence is seen all over the dial today. What a run!
— Andy Cohen (@Andy) April 3, 2014
Mr. Letterman, you have always been the best. I’ve had more fun on your show and you’ve been a class guy all the way. Enjoy ur final days.
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) April 3, 2014
Rank everybody on television during the length of his career – all fields, all styles. David Letterman ranks First. #DontRetire
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) April 3, 2014
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 3, 2014
(This post has been updated.)