Throughout his 33 years in late-night television – and particularly in the time he's spent at CBS – David Letterman has only rarely agreed to be interviewed, and he's even more rarely as open and self-reflective as he is in this great piece by Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times.
I'd advise you to read the whole thing, but among the highlights:
* Letterman said he was bothered that CBS didn't consult with him at all on his successor, “just as a courtesy,” but also understands that it's CBS' choice, and that Stephen Colbert needs no advice from him on what to do. “He's not a kid. He's not a beginner. He's had pretty good success.”
* In talking about the rivalry with Jay Leno's “Tonight Show,” Letterman says he felt he took “Late Show” in the wrong direction, “going a million miles an hour,” and that it took him a very long time after it was clear that the audience preferred Leno for him to try changing things: “I don”t know that we ever did get back the right way. It didn”t start to settle down until it couldn”t be more clear that Jay was the more popular show. And when we all realized that there”s not much we can do here – you can”t put toothpaste back in the tube – then we started going our own way again.”
* He worried he might lose the job when he had his heart surgery in 2000 – that one of the fill-in hosts would be so impressive that CBS would just give them the job – and also that he'd never be able to run again, which had always been an important physical and mental outlet for him. “And then, six weeks after the surgery, I ran for five miles. So let”s face it, I am a hero. There”s no two ways of looking at it.”
There's a lot of great stuff in there, including his thoughts on why he can't do what the Jimmys do, his plans for his final show, the attempt to extort him over sexual relationships he had with female staffers, and more. So go read it.
Letterman's final “Late Show” will be on May 20.