|Stephen Colbert poses for a 'selfie' with David Letterman|
According to this New York Times article, Letterman had a since a child dreamed of hosting a television show (on of his first gifts was a Tinker Toy set, which he built into a microphone), and when Johnny Carson became host of The Tonight Show, Letterman found a true idol and formulated a private ambition to someday succeed him. When NBC signed Letterman for 'Late Night with David Letterman', the dream seemed within reach, however The Tonight Show role ultimately went to Jay Leno (a good friend of Letterman's who had himself ascended to prominence as a guest on Letterman's 'Late Night'), as NBC wanted both stars - not one or the other - to solidify its late night lineup after the retirement of Carson. Letterman was understandably devastated, and began to doubt his own future in television.
On an August morning in 1991, David Letterman and Peter Lassally were escorted to Michael Ovitz's corner office on the third floor of the I. M. Pei-designed C.A.A. headquarters, in Beverly Hills. Ovitz greeted them with a rush of warmth and enthusiasm. As soon as they were comfortable, he revved up the sales pitch to high speed. Ovitz said he saw Letterman as an enormous star with geometric possibilities; he had drawn up a complete architecture for Dave's future. C.A.A. would deliver everything Dave wanted. Yes, there would be an 11:30 show for him, and there would be offers from each network. But the deal would be bigger than that. Ovitz would be able to bid Dave around the entire television industry. Networks, studios, syndicators, everywhere and everybody. Dave would become a giant from this deal. All these things would be delivered, because Dave was the biggest and the best.
It was virtuoso salesmanship, a performance so dazzling that even the two show business cynics who were bathed in it could not help but come away dripping with excitement. Back at Lassally's house that afternoon, a giddy Dave kept saying over and over, 'I've been to see the godfather! I had a meeting with the godfather!'
On Dec. 7, 1992, CBS won the first round in the bidding for David Letterman with the promise of a salary that could reach $14.5 million a year. But NBC still had 30 business days to match any offer and keep the star."
Ultimately, NBC did offer Letterman the Tonight Show, but with certain provisions, including when he would take over the role. In the end, the CBS offer was too good to turn down, and Letterman famously made the move, shaping the late night television landscape for years to come.
Read the entire New York Times article, Behind the Headlines in the Leno - Letterman Role.
Congratulations to David Letterman for an extraordinary run at The Late Show!