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Analyzing David Letterman's retirement: The bigger picture

David Letterman announced his retirement last night, but why now? Quickly, some background: Here's what I wrote a couple weeks ago., but to add to this -- there's no indication this was any decision other than Dave's.

What about Dave? Letterman turns 67 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.

The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.

Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago: "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”

No one wants to see Letterman go. I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be.

That said .?.?. reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday. For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them.

Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes. A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history. But still. Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year.

There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one? By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43. My kicker:

Stephen Colbert could well be the next host of "Late Show."

And of course, this: We'll see.

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