Since 1982, millions of Americans have spent the waning hours of their weeknights with David Letterman. Wednesday night, after more than a decade hosting Late Night with David Letterman and more than two decades hosting Late Show with David Letterman, the comedian will host his final episode of late-night TV.
Here's everything viewers need to know before tuning into CBS for Letterman’s last hurrah:
The who, when and where: Late Show with David Letterman airs at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, and will be filmed, as ever, at New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater. Letterman’s musical guest will be the Foo Fighters, who have enjoyed a long relationship with the late-night host, including performing after his return from open-heart surgery in 2000. CBS has remained mum on other guests and segments, telling viewers only that they can expect many surprises. On Wednesday afternoon, Variety reported that Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Barbara Walters were seen entering the Ed Sullivan Theater, and that Chris Rock and Peyton Manning would be on hand for the final taping.
And the why: When Letterman announced his plan to retire, back in 2014, he rattled off a list of statistics that spoke to the tremendous amount of time he’d spent behind that desk. “When this show stops being fun,” he explained, “I will retire 10 years later.” He also offered an anecdote about fishing with his young son that suggested that more time with family would be a welcome change after decades of churning out the show night after night.
Who else is out of a job: Paul Shaffer has been Letterman’s band leader, musical director and sidekick since 1982, when Late Night first aired. Shaffer, 65, told Billboard that following the end of Late Show, he plans to play piano more in the studio. He also hopes “to do more comedy, more acting, maybe a three-episode arc on Law & Order.”
Who’s taking over: Stephen Colbert will shed the fictionalized right-wing character he played for ten years on The Colbert Report to take over hosting duties on Late Show, which will be renamed Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The show will resume with Colbert at the helm on Sept. 8, 2015.
The legacy: Letterman is widely recognized by peers and admirers in the comedy world as a true pioneer of late-night television. The absurd ideas he brought to TV—from putting a camera on a monkey to throwing a watermelon from a rooftop—might seem simple to today’s viewers but were revolutionary for their time. Letterman’s discomfort with show business, his willingness to make his guests uncomfortable and his originality made him an idol to many of today’s late-night stars, from Jimmy Kimmel to Jimmy Fallon.