PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As David Letterman’s retirement from late night TV nears, Ken Rice can’t help but remember what Letterman told him 19 years ago. Because of it, Ken never expected Letterman to continue hosting The Late Show for anywhere near as long as he has.
Ken and Dave sat down together in the spring of 1996, when Letterman was dreading the prospect of turning 50 and thinking that his time on late night TV was probably about up.READ MORE: COVID-19 Vaccines: FDA Set To Discuss Single-Dose Johnson & Johnson Vaccine
At the time, Letterman was only three years into his stint on CBS after nearly a dozen years at NBC. Jay Leno had pulled ahead in the nightly ratings and there were reports of angst at the Ed Sullivan theater – not that that should have surprised anyone who had followed Letterman’s career.
As Ken reported at the time:
“If you’ve read anything at all about David Letterman over the past 15 years, you’ve no doubt read about this supposedly tortured soul. A self-loathing, insecure workaholic.”
Letterman told Ken that media depiction of him was “a load of crap.”
Ken: “The theme of most of these articles seems to be the same – how weird is Letterman? Letterman the loner, Letterman the raving lunatic… “
Dave: “Do you care about the job you do?
Letterman then quizzed the camera operators about whether they cared about the jobs they do. Yes, they care, they confirmed. Point made, Letterman elaborated:READ MORE: Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh Steelers Hosting COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic At Heinz Field
“That’s all it is. I get paid an enormous amount of money and I feel like I have to be accountable and I want to make sure I do the best job I can. I care about it, just the same way you care about it. But nobody’s saying [you’re] insane because [you care] about doing a good job. And that’s all it is. And if I don’t do a good job, I don’t feel happy about that, and that’s it. You find a person who feels good about screwing up his job, I don’t want to have dinner with that guy – you know, ‘Well, congratulations, I really screwed it up today, where’s the London broil,’ you know? I ain’t going to dinner with that guy.”
It was clear that the ratings competition with Leno was very much on his mind. But so was his recent birthday. He had just turned 49.
Ken: “How do you feel about that?”
Dave: “I feel horrible about that. Most of my life, I thought I was the same age as everybody else, you know? And I just thought, oh well, I’m your age. How old are you?”
Dave: “See, well, we’re not the same age. And I go through that all of the time. But 50 — I don’t think you can do this job when you’re 50, you know? I think you either have to change the show or you have to quit and let somebody younger do it when you get to be 50.”
As we now know, Letterman only ended up sticking around for another 19 years. Last week, Letterman told The New York Times that as his chief rival, Leno, aged in the job, he didn’t feel so strange about aging in the job himself. Now, with Leno gone, the late night landscape has changed. So perhaps it’s not surprising that he would feel – apparently for real, now – that’s it’s time.
As for the 68-year-old Letterman’s replacement, Stephen Colbert? He will start his new gig on The Late Show at age 51.MORE NEWS: American Dermatological Association Warns Parents Over Dangerous Skincare Trend On TikTok