Letterman’s New CBS Contract Sets Late-Night Hosting Record

Late Night Television Host David Letterman
Late night television host David Letterman. Photographer: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

David Letterman, the late-night star of CBS Corp.’s television network, agreed to host his program through 2014, setting the stage to break Johnny Carson’s record of 30 years.

As part of the accord, CBS also re-signed Craig Ferguson, who hosts the talk show that follows Letterman’s weeknight program, the network said today in an e-mailed statement.

Letterman, who turns 65 on April 12, will become the longest-serving host on late-night TV, beating Carson’s 1962-1992 run on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” CBS said. “The Late Show With David Letterman” began airing in August 1993. He previously hosted “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC starting in February 1982.

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

Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants Inc., produces “The Late Show,” as well as the “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.” Under the new agreement, Ferguson’s show will move to a larger stage at CBS studios in Los Angeles and the network will become co-producer, according to the statement.

Audience Ratings

Today’s announcement completes negotiations with both late-night hosts. Letterman was close to an agreement with the network in January, a person with knowledge of the situation said at the time.

Letterman’s “The Late Show” has averaged 3.3 million total nightly viewers each week this season, according to Nielsen data made available by Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal. That compares with 3.8 million for Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show,” broadcast by NBCUniversal.

CBS, the most-watched television network, announced last month it renewed 18 programs for next season, more than three-fourths of its prime-time schedule, including “The Big Bang Theory.” Four comedies, nine dramas, three reality series and two news-magazine shows will return for the 2012-2013 television season, which starts in September.

The network, which will pitch the schedule to big advertisers next month, expects to obtain “double-digit” increases in ad rates to lead its competitors, CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said on March 10 at a conference at the University of California, Los Angeles.

CBS is averaging 12 million prime-time viewers in the season that began in September, a 1.4 percent gain from last season and more than any of its competitors, according to data from Nielsen. The broadcaster ranks second to News Corp.’s Fox in viewers ages 18 to 49, a group targeted by advertisers, according to audience data from Nielsen.

CBS, controlled by Chairman Sumner Redstone, rose 0.4 percent to $33.88 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 25 percent this year.

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