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Letterman signs up for 'Late Show' into 2010

December 05, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — It's four more years for David Letterman.

The wry host of CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" has re-upped with the network through the fall of 2010, CBS officials announced Monday.

Letterman was on vacation and unavailable for comment but said in a statement that he is "thrilled to be continuing on at CBS."

"At my age, you really don't want to have to learn a new commute," he quipped.

CBS did not reveal the details of Letterman's new deal, but it is believed to be more than the annual salary of $31.5 million that he secured during his last contract negotiations in 2002.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
David Letterman: An article in Tuesday's Calendar section about David Letterman renewing his contract at CBS said that the late-night talk show host first joined the network in 1992. It was in 1993.

Letterman's latest talks with CBS were decidedly more low-key than four years ago, when the network did not immediately renew his contract, balking at some of his terms. That opened the door for a courtship from ABC, which offered to boot "Nightline" out of its time slot for him. The comedian ultimately decided to stay with CBS after obtaining a commitment from the network for more extensive promotion of his show.

The 59-year-old comedian's newest deal secures his place in late-night television at least a year longer than his rival, NBC's Jay Leno, who is scheduled to hand off "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien in 2009. That transition could give Letterman an opening to make a run at the top late-night slot Leno has held on to for more than a decade.

The length of his new contract is no accident, said Brad Adgate, research director for ad-buying firm Horizon Media.

"CBS really, really struggled in late night before Letterman came on board, and while he hasn't won the time period, he's upgraded late night for CBS," Adgate said.

After initially beating Leno when he jumped from NBC to CBS in 1992, Letterman's been stuck in second place for the last 11 years. So far this season, "The Tonight Show" has averaged more than 5.6 million viewers, while "Late Show" has drawn just under 4.3 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

But Letterman continues to attract high-profile guests, most recently pop star Britney Spears, showing off a new, slim look, and Michael Richards, who appeared via satellite last month to apologize for delivering a racist tirade at the Laugh Factory.

Although a host of new programs on cable now compete for the late-night audience, the broadcast shows have held their own and remain a desirable platform for advertisers seeking young viewers, especially men. With a combined viewership so far this season of 9.91 million, the total audience tuning in to watch Leno and Letterman is slightly larger than seven years ago, when it averaged 9.8 million -- an especially remarkable feat at a time when the overall prime-time audience for broadcast television is shrinking.

But the late-night landscape is poised to undergo some significant changes. Fox, which this season gave Spike Feresten his own Saturday-night show, is contemplating jumping back into the weekday late-night competition. Meanwhile, a new generation of comedians is now in the mix, including ABC's Jimmy Kimmel and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, whose contracts are coming up for renewal in the next several years. For his part, Leno has not said what he plans to do when he hands the reins to O'Brien in 2009, but few believe he's going to retire.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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