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Dave Letterman Signals He'll Soon Put Down The Microphone


David Letterman, the longest-serving late night television host, is retiring.


SIEGEL: Letterman, who is 66, told the audience today during a taping of his late show program which will air tonight. Here to talk about David Letterman is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. And Eric, why has Letterman decided to retire now?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Well, Letterman, who doesn't talk to the press that much, hasn't really said why he decided to retire now. But when NBC was going through its high-profile transitions with Jimmy Fallon talking over for Jay Leno, a lot of people wondered what that might mean for Letterman, who was the oldest late night host and had been around the longest. Critics have said that Letterman seems a little less connected to pop culture these days. He made a comedy bit about fumbling to get on Twitter and took his first selfie pretty recently. And he said during his announcement to his audience that he'd been doing this for half his life, so maybe late night talk has increasingly become a young man's game and he just decided he was ready to leave.

SIEGEL: Well, is there any hint about who might take over for Letterman at CBS?

DEGGANS: Well, The New York Times reported some time ago that Craig Ferguson, who hosts the show that comes after Letterman's show, "The Late Late Show," has what's called the right of first refusal. So, CBS has to come to him and say do you want the late show job, and then if he says no they can move on. But, you know, if the network wants to get around that contract they have ways of doing it. And Letterman himself got passed over by NBC to take over "The Tonight Show" job when Johnny Carson retired because NBC wanted Jay Leno. So it's hard to know who might take over for him.

SIEGEL: Eric, how would you describe the impact that David Letterman has had as a late night host and broadcaster?

DEGGANS: Well, he's one of the last network TV talk show hosts left from a time when critics might say it was the height of the form. I mean, Johnny Carson and "The Tonight Show" could make or break - and did make or break - many legendary comics' careers. Letterman started as a quirky stand-up comic and then he became a regular guest host on "The Tonight Show" and then made his career. And then he started this show after "The Tonight Show" called "Late Night," did very well, and then moved to CBS and sort of became a broadcast institution. He matured. He helped audiences get through 9/11. He shared this health scare that he had when he had cardiac problems and became a broadcast institution. So I think he's left a really lasting impact.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans on David Letterman's announcement that he'll retire next year. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.