Letterman and His Beard Tell Tom Brokaw 'I Couldn't Care Less' About Late Night

Joel Keller
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NBC

David Letterman is just winning this whole retirement thing, isn't he?

Between the "crazy old prospector" beard that he says he's more determined to keep the more his wife hates it, and his DGAF attitude about returning to show business, he's proving to everyone that you can walk away from the camera and stay there. It's an attitude that isn't that dissimilar from his mentor, Johnny Carson, who made very rare TV appearances between his exit from The Tonight Show in 1992 and his death in 2005.

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In his first in-depth TV interview since he left The Late Show a year ago, Letterman talks to old pal Tom Brokaw for the NBC News special On Assignment, from a booth at Shake 'n Steak (is it the one next door to his old stomping grounds at the Ed Sullivan Theater?). In the preview clip below, Letterman tells Brokaw that on the first night Stephen Colbert hosted his old show, his desire to be part of the late night industrial complex ended. "I couldn't care less about late night" at this point, he tells Brokaw.

He also tells Brokaw that it would have been nice if his job was offered to a woman, and that he had no input in who his successor was. "They were just happy I was going," he says with his signature laugh.

As much as Dave seemed like he was phoning things in during his last few years behind the desk, the more we see him grinning behind that grandpa beard the more we miss him. Along with Jon Stewart and the "high status idiot" Stephen Colbert character, Dave would have been energized by the crazy election season 2016 has been so far, and his dry, detached, Indianian perspective would have cut through the looniness. The Trump jokes alone could have kept him going for another two years.

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But there's also a sense of relief on his face and a relaxed manner that we never saw when he was bantering with Paul Shaffer every night for 33 years. Show biz never came easy to Dave; he just wanted to make people laugh. And, unlike people who would love if they were carried off the stage at the end (coughLenocough), Dave seems to be content being on his ranch in Montana, watching his Indy drivers race, and watching his son grow up. That's the type of retirement we'd all like to have, right?

On Assignment, Sunday, June 12, 7/6c, NBC.