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David Letterman Is Back, and Netflix Has Won Again

In a deal that makes sense for everyone, the former ‘Late Show’ host will return to TV with his own tailor-made interview series

David Letterman Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Just over two years after leaving his longtime post on The Late Show, David Letterman has announced his return to television with a new Netflix show. The series, due out next year, will consist of six hourlong episodes that combine longform interviews with outside-the-studio segments. So much for retirement!

It’s a bit of a surprising move for Letterman, who seemed at peace with his newfound laid-back lifestyle—though maybe that was just the beard—but there’s no doubt that this show is tailored to his strengths of interviewing and wryly interacting with the strangeness of the world. He’s shown an interest in the latter, traveling to India in 2015 and interviewing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Years of Living Dangerously, a National Geographic documentary series about climate change. Along with a show built around his interests, the freedom and ever-expanding, ready-made audience of Netflix was evidently enough to get him to put down the fishing rod.

In many ways, Letterman’s retirement has resembled Jon Stewart’s. Both left labor-intensive comedy shows to focus on more pointed personal projects. Both leaned into the facial hair and made efforts to save segments of the world (in Letterman’s case, the climate, and in Stewart’s, the animals). And both admitted that they regretted receding from the spotlight just before the start of the Trump era, leaving behind an environment primed for debate and humor. Just a few months after his retirement, Letterman made an appearance on Martin Short and Steve Martin’s A Very Stupid Conversation Show, where he joked, “I was complacent, I was satisfied, I was content, and then a couple of days ago Donald Trump said he was running for president. I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life, ladies and gentleman.” Now, they’re both returning—Stewart to HBO with a series of comedy specials, and Letterman to Netflix.

For Netflix, being the one to land Letterman’s first postretirement vehicle is a massive win, but it also signals a continued evolution in its programming. The service has been bolstering its slate of unscripted television in recent months, rolling out Bill Nye Saves the World in April and its first original reality series, Ultimate Beastmaster, in February, while also licensing reality shows like Terrace House that might be less familiar to American audiences. All of those shows joined Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea, which has a format that’s similar to Letterman’s proposed series. Adding the former Late Show host to that group seriously strengthens Netflix’s growing lineup of unscripted programming, while bringing in an older (built-in) audience that the service’s often-millennial-leaning choices don’t usually cater to.

Letterman seems to be finding that retirement is the perfect time to create exactly what he wants—to talk to the people who interest him and go to the places he wants to see, without the pressure of having to do it every day. And Netflix—as it should be—is more than happy to be the one to let him do that.