Word that Dave Letterman would announce his retirement on his show last night drove viewers to the broadcast, putting Dave on top in early stats. In the country’s 56 metered markets, the CBS Late Show With David Letterman logged a household 3.2/8, besting Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’s 2.4/6 on NBC and Jimmy Kimmel Live’s 2.4/6 on ABC. For Letterman, it marked his highest local rating since October of ’12. Some of Fallon’s older viewers appear to have switched camps to catch Dave’s big announcement, because Fallon’s household rating was a low for him on Tonight. That said, in the 25 markets with Local People Meters, Fallon dominated in the demo according to prelim stats, despite Dave’s big announcement and Kimmel’s popular Thursday Scandal tie-in, with a 1.0/5, followed by Kimmel’s 0.9/4 and Dave’s 0.6/3.
Letterman stunned his Late Show studio audience today when he abruptly announced that he will retire next year. He began by telling the studio crowd he will be celebrating his 67th birthday in about a week (April 12), at which time, he said, he will have spent about half his life “behind this desk” and “in makeup.” At CBS, he said, he’s done 4,014 shows, At NBC, he did 1,810 shows. He hosted a short-lived NBC morning show before that, doing 90 episodes. “What this represents is 5,914 — almost 6,000 shows, ladies and gentlemen.” One story about spotting an immature bald eagle later, Letterman announced, after thanking his staff, CBS and his viewers: “We don’t have the timing of this precisely down; it will be at least a year or so. But at some time in the not too distant future — 2015, for the love of God — in fact, Paul and I will be wrapping things up and taking a hike.”
Letterman is the longest-serving late-night host in TV history, last year surpassing his friend and mentor Johnny Carson at the 31-year mark (Letterman made his late-night debut as host of NBC’s Late Night With David Letterman in 1982, moving to CBS to host Late Show in ’93). Today’s news comes almost two months after rival Jay Leno departed NBC’s The Tonight Show after a 22-year run.