David Letterman is preparing to return to television in his first continuing series since stepping down as the host of CBS’s Late Show in 2015.
Netflix announced on Tuesday that it had picked up a new show from the comedian and broadcaster.
Each hour-long episode of the series, which will run for six episodes next year, will feature a long-form interview between Letterman and a guest, as well as segments in which he explores the wider world.
Letterman said on Tuesday in a phone interview that ever since he signed off from his Late Show duties, “Everybody would come to me and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I kept saying, ‘Well, jeez, I did what I wanted to do’.”
But his new series, which does not yet have a title, “feels like exactly what I want at this stage of my life”, he added.
In his 33-year tenure as a late-night host, Letterman, 70, pushed the format well beyond the boundaries established by predecessors like Johnny Carson, the genial MC of NBC’s The Tonight Show.
At NBC’s Late Night (which he created and hosted from 1982 to 1993) and CBS’s Late Show (from 1993 to 2015), Letterman helped introduce many innovative comedy bits, as well as an acerbic, cockeyed style that still permeates the genre.
He also appeared in segments taped outside his studios where he amused himself with explorations of quotidian life and interactions with everyday people.
As Letterman described it, his Netflix series would not much resemble his past network late-night shows.
“I can’t stop talking, so there’s no time limit,” he said, explaining its format. “I can just talk the ears off people, until they call the police. As with many things, I’m coming from a position of great ignorance, so the well of questioning is pretty much infinite. It’s a perfect fit for me.”
His current stage of planning, Letterman said, was to “write down a list of people that you know you’re not going to be able to talk to, and those are the people that I want to try to get to talk to”.
He said he had already booked one such guest “that I’m delighted about, that I’m told I can’t reveal”.
Since his departure from Late Show, where he was succeeded by Stephen Colbert, Letterman has made only a handful of TV appearances.
Last year he was a celebrity correspondent on Years of Living Dangerously, a climate-change documentary series on the National Geographic Channel, for which he traveled to India and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (He also grew a copious beard.)
Citing his experience on Years of Living Dangerously and his friendship with Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, the comedian turned politician, Letterman said he would like to do work that might “affect people and help people – that notion to me, as high-minded as that might be, is a great motivator here”.
(Asked if Franken was among the guests he was considering, Letterman said: “No, no. We’d have to do so much better than Al Franken as a guest. He wouldn’t even make the junior varsity, I’m sorry.”)
Letterman was also adamant that he would keep his beard for the Netflix series.
“Between you and me, the beard is to cover up botched plastic surgery,” he said. “The beard has to stay. It would be hideous. Children would be frightened.”
– The New York Times