At 67 years of age, and long past his stale date, the Not-King of Late Night’s David Letterman announced Thursday that he will retire sometime next year. Letterman told his audience last night he had always held the belief that, “When this show stops being fun I will retire — 10 years later.” Well, no kidding. And although they will never say so, CBS has to be thrilled to finally be rid of David Letterman.
When asked if he would ever retire Letterman, CBS President Les Moonves never wavered from the answer, “You don’t do that to a television legend.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement.
From a strictly business point of view, it was time for Letterman to go quite a few years ago. The New York Times reports that Letterman’s ratings had declined to just 2.8 million viewers; a loss of 6% from last year and a brutal loss of 17% in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 age demo. Moreover, in recent years, Letterman’s show was only generating $20 million in annual profit. And that is mainly due to what the Times describes as “huge budget cuts” that were forced on Letterman’s show.
You might think that $20 million in annual profits is a windfall, but it’s not. CBS knows that they could be making a lot more profit in that time-slot, probably with reruns of “NCIS.”
As far as viewers go, Vulture reports that Letterman is not only regularly losing the ratings war to Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, but also to Adult Swim and Comedy Central. If Letterman thought America would tune in to him after Leno’s exit, he was dead wrong. Fallon is doing much better than NBC could have ever hoped, mainly due to his decision to uphold the Tonight Show tradition of skewering left and right with equal abandon.
And this is where Letterman lost his mojo.
Somewhere along the line, the good-natured, irreverent, Midwestern genius who so many worshipped for so long, turned into a nasty, bitter, elite, divisive jerk. Those of us who watched Johnny Carson groom him, his ill-fated but brilliant morning show… Those of who regularly missed the school bus to stay up and watch his 11:30 post-Carson show…
Man alive, Letterman’s turn into Mr. Hyde was absolutely heartbreaking.
And now the guest who stayed way too long will limp off the stage, and CBS and our political discourse will be much better off.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC