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What will David Letterman do in retirement? Considering the options...
David Letterman in retirement: The very phrase is daunting, an existential conundrum. A riddle without an answer.
We kid, but not by a large margin: Letterman in retirement does not compute. He is devoted to his show, his staff, and the daily routine of putting out broadcast television's best talk show, late night or otherwise. He does not have, or is not known to have, hobbies, or anything that would comprise a time-consuming pastime which people in retirement are supposed to typically consume their time with: Golf, tennis, travel, the grandkids, Myrtle Beach . . . Mowing the lawn at the North Salem place? Hard to imagine.
But that doesn't mean he has no outside interests -- those are well-known and well-established. He has an LA-based charitable foundation, has close ties to his alma mater, Ball State; there's a budding record company and, of course, Worldwide Pants.
Probably the most exciting outside venture is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing -- his IndyCar team that he owns with former racing great Bobby Rahal and which had considerable success in the middle of the last decade, and only recently returned to full-time competition, and is also involved with the American LeMans circuit (they race a custom built BMW).
Letterman is every bit the motor head Jay Leno is, absent the compulsive need to buy everything on wheels. Dave is not exactly a collector by nature.
But these ventures are already operating concerns -- successful side-businesses with their own staffs. Does David want to become involved more fully with each of those when his absentee ownership status has sufficed nicely all these years? Presumably a question only he can answer.
Then, there is this question: What about a return to television in some capacity? That presumes the old saw that great TV talents just can't stay away from the hot light -- that Bill Cosby just has to get back in the game, or that Oprah can't be far from TV so she'll just buy a network instead, or that Jay really will go to Fox, and so on.
Of course I don't buy it. Letterman really doesn't need it. He really doesn't need the fame or fortune -- he doesn't have that burning desire to be loved, to hear the audience applause or to be fulfilled -- as part of some sort of deep-seated narcissistic impulse -- by the omnipresence of cameras and that blinking red light.
He's long had a curious ambivalence to fame -- which is part of his appeal, certainly. I can take this stupid job and shove it has long been implicit in the Letterman MO -- a sense that the world is mad, television is madder and there's certainly no reason to go completely insane along with it.
For that reason, don't bet on a TV future in retirement. But that doesn't mean there couldn't and shouldn't be one. A Charlie Rose-like show, hosted by the Thoughtful Dave, with thoughtful questions offered in the spirit of thoughtfulness . . . a deeper exploration of his interests absent the quips or jokes or Paul Shaffer one-liners over to the side (not that there's anything wrong with any of that . . .)?
Something a little more PBS-like, or fringe-cable-like? Once a week even?
Only Dave has the answers to these questions. We'll see how he answers them.