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David Letterman poised to be longest-serving late-night TV host

April 3, 2012 | 10:52 am

David Letterman  David Letterman and Craig Ferguson have signed contracts with CBS that will keep their late-night shows, "Late Show" and "The Late Late Show," respectively, on the air through 2014.

While this isn't terribly surprising on the face of it, it does set the stage for one amazing record to be set: Letterman will become the longest-serving late-night TV host in history, surpassing Johnny Carson's 30-year run on "The Tonight Show."

What sets Letterman's run apart from Carson's is that it is divided into two distinct sections: his original "Late Night With David Letterman" run on NBC, which lasted from 1982 until 1993, and his CBS run, which began in late 1993 and is still going. Carson began his "Tonight Show" gig in 1962 and worked there continuously until 1992. Of course, it was Carson's retirement and Jay Leno's subsequent placement as "Tonight Show" host that led to Letterman leaving NBC.

Both men are credited with defining the late-night game, though Letterman retains the edge awards-wise. Carson received six Emmys for "The Tonight Show," including a Governor's Award, while Letterman received five for "Late Night" and nine more for "Late Show." Both shows have earned a Peabody Award. But only Carson earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center Honors.

Letterman has long cited Carson as his main influence and inspiration as a late-night host and Carson reportedly saw Letterman as his rightful successor after his retirement. In fact, Carson continued to write and submit monologue jokes to Letterman long after he'd left the TV stage. Letterman revealed this upon Carson's death in 2005, when he performed an entire monologue made up of jokes Carson had submitted.

"David Letterman is a late-night legend with an iconic show and Craig Ferguson continues to evolve the genre in exciting and innovative ways," said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler in a statement.

Ferguson's "Late, Late Show" has charted its own late-night course since its debut in 2005, with the Scottish-born host frequently tearing up the accepted format by rearranging the order of the show, having themed episodes and delivering unscripted monologues.

The show has received its own Peabody Awards and an Emmy nomination, but with the new contract it will move to a larger stage at CBS Television City.


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— Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: David Letterman. Credit: John Paul Filo / CBS.