David Letterman likely to exit 'Late Show' in low-key fashion

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David Letterman - updated 10/19
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David Letterman likely to exit 'Late Show' in low-key fashion
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Julia Roberts catches up with Dave on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
President Barack Obama sits with David Letterman on the set of the "Late Show With David Letterman" at the Ed Sullivan Theater, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: David Letterman appears outside the 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 26: David Letterman attends 'A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey' at Ball State University on November 26, 2012 in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)
Talk show host David Letterman, right, interviews Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley on the "Late Night with David Letterman" show in New York, June 29, 1988. This is Letterman's second show since he returned to television despite the continuing Writer's Guild strike. (AP Photo/Mario Suriani)
FILE - This Jan. 15, 1993 file photo shows talk-show host David Letterman announces his new contract with CBS television for his new show "The Late Show with David Letterman," in New York. Letterman announced his retirement during a taping on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Although no specific date was announced he told the audience that he will leave his desk sometime in 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
**FILE**Late night talk show host David Letterman makes a surprise appearance at the Primetime Emmy Awards, Sept. 18, 2005, in Los Angeles. Letterman paused on the "Late Show" Monday night, March 27, 2006, to offer condolences to the family of race car driver Paul Dana, who died of injuries suffered in a crash during warmups at the IRL IndyCar Series race near Miami on Sunday. Dana was a driver on a race team partly sponsored by Letterman.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2009 file photo, traffic moves down Broadway, past the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Late Show with David Letterman is taped, in New York. Police responded to a 911 call of a burglary at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway around 7 a.m., Sunday, July 10, 2011. The officers noticed some property damage and have taken one man into custody, but no arrests have yet been made. It was unclear how extensive the damage was. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)
In this photo provided by CBS, the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy as “Late Show” host David Letterman places the Stanley Cup down on his desk, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman" in New York. The Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, and Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO ARCHIVE NORTH AMERICA USE ONLY.
In this photo provided by CBS, U.S. Olympic men's high jump silver medalist Erik Kynard Jr., left, talks with host David Letterman on the set of the ìLate Show with David Letterman,î Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, Heather Wines) MANDATORY CREDIT ARCHIVE OUT NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
In this photo provided by CBS, Masters golf tournament champion Bubba Watson, left, talks to host David Letterman on the set of "Late Show with David Letterman," Tuesday, April 10, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, Jeffrey R. Staab) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO ARCHIVE NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
Late night talk show host David Letterman speaks at the International Rescue Committee Freedom Award Dinner at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on Wednesday Nov. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Reichbaum)
In this photo provided by CBS, former New York Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath, left, talks about his football career with host David Letterman on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo) MANDATORY CREDIT NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
FILE -- In a Jan. 13, 2009 file photo talk show host David Letterman leaves a taping of the "Late Show with David Letterman," in New York. Letterman Monday Dec. 7, 2009 dived right into material on Tiger Woods on the "Late Show," joking he wishes the golfer would stop asking him for advice. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
David Letterman, the host of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, jokes that he no longer needs his name tag since the building carries his name after the dedication of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building on the campus in Muncie, Ind., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. Letter also received a Sagamore of the Wabash from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Letterman is a Ball State University graduate and grew up in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
A "do not walk" sign flashes outside "The Late Show with David Letterman" studio at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York on Wednesday April 26, 2006. CBS Corp. reported lower net first-quarter earnings Wednesday, reflecting the company's split with Viacom Inc. at the beginning of the year. (AP Photo/Shahrzad Elghanayan)
NEW YORK - APRIL 3: Actor Johnny Depp chats with Dave about his new movie 'Transcendence' on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday April 3, 2014 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
Honest cab driver Qurbe Munir Tirmizi appears with David Letterman during the taping of the Late Show with David Letterman Wednesday, July 16, 1997, in New York. Tirmizi, a native of Pakistan, had only been driving a taxi for three weeks when a customer left her life savings of $32,859 in the back seat of his cab on Saturday July 13. Tirmizi promptly turned the money in to authorities and when his customer, Gwendoline Weeks, 71, originally from England, offered Tirmizi a reward he turned it down. (AP Photo/HO, Alan Singer)
Talk show host David Letterman gestures as he speaks to former President Jimmy Carter during the taping of the "Late show with David Letterman" Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1993 in New York. Carter, who dropped in on the show to tell a few stories, was welcomed onstage with a standing ovation. (AP Photo/Alan Singer)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 22, 1985: TV personality David Letterman poses at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 22, 1985 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by TVA/PictureGroup/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 7: David Letterman seen outside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City on October 7, 2014. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
In this photo provided by CBS, Serena Williams talks with host David on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in New York. Williams will compete in the U.S. Open which begins on Aug. 25. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo)
In this photo provided by CBS, host David Letterman, right, talks with the U.S. men’s ski slopestyle Olympic medalists on the set of “Late Show with David Letterman,” Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in New York. From left are Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy and Joss Christensen. (AP Photo/CBS, Jeffrey R. Staab) MANDATORY CREDIT NO ARCHIVE, FOR NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
FILE - This June 29, 2010 file photo shows David Letterman riding a go kart powered by the reaction from mixing 648 Mentos candies into 108 two-liter bottles of Coke while taping a segment for "The Late Show with David Letterman" in New York. Letterman announced his retirement during a taping on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Although no specific date was announced he told the audience that he will leave his desk sometime in 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Jay Leno, host David Letterman -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 25: Marine Lance Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, is welcomed to the Thursday CBS Late Show by host David Letterman. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 30: Jay Carney and Late Show host David Letterman discuss White House press briefings during Wednesday's 7/30/14 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: 'Late Show with David Letterman' host David Letterman plays a tennis match against Serena Williams at Ed Sullivan Theater on August 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
THE VIEW - 5/12/14 After 17 incredible seasons and 10 different female panelists, Barbara Walters says farewell to live daily television with her final co-host appearance this week on 'The View,' the daytime program she created for ABC. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. Today's special guests include David Letterman, Michael J. Fox and guest co-host, Jane Fonda. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 5: Peyton Manning and Late Show host David Letterman try their passing skills at moving New York City cabs with open windows during Monday's taping 5/5/14 in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Talk Show Host David Letterman is seen on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by DVT/Star Max/GC Images)
Kennedy Center Honoree comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman arrives for an event in the East Room of the White House December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees before to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Actor Dustin Hoffman (L) chats with comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman during an event in the East Room of the White House on December 2, 2012 in Washington. US Presidenmt Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon, guest host David Letterman in the 1970s -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Stupid pet tricks with Late Show Host David Letterman on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Heather Wines/CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption)
NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien chats with Dave when he visits the Late Show with David Letterman, Thursday May 17, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 19: First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Late Show host David Letterman during Monday's 3/19/12 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: David Letterman jokes around with photographers at 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on September 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Guest host David Letterman on March 26, 1979 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
American comedian and television show host David Letterman, circa 1980. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images)
Host David Letterman and tennis player Maria Sharapova during a taping of 'Late Show with David Letterman' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on April 21, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/WireImage)
David Letterman walks hand-in-hand with Oprah Winfrey from the Ed Sullivan Theater to the premiere of Winfrey's new musical "The Color Purple" at the nearby Broadway Theater after Winfrey made her first ever appearance on "The Late Show" Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
David Letterman, right, the host of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, and his mother Dorothy Mengering share a laugh during the dedication of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building on the campus in Muncie, Ind., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. Letterman is a Ball State University graduate and grew up in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Talk show host David Letterman, left, gestures while talking with Johnny Carson during a taping of the "Tonight Show" at the NBC studio in Burbank, Calif., Aug 30, 1991. Letterman's presence on the "Tonight Show" was his first appearance since Carson announced his retirement next year. Letterman and Jay Leno, who is Carson's regular guest host and was named as his replacement, were in contention for the job. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)
** FILE ** David Letterman walks from the Ed Sullivan Theater after taping "The Late Show with David Letterman" Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Rountree)
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David Letterman is readying an exit from his latenight perch at CBS' "Late Show" that will play down they hype associated with the event, according to people familiar with the matter, and instead focus on his work on the program he has broadcast for decades.

As the veteran host enters his last six weeks at the helm of the program, CBS has unveiled a roster of celebrities slated to appear. The names include George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Howard Stern, Julia Roberts, Robert Downey Jr., Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Jack Hanna, and Scarlett Johansson. CBS promised "many more names to be announced in the coming weeks." Bill Murray, the actor and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member who was Letterman's first guest when he started "The Late Show" at CBS as well as "Late Night" at NBC, is also expected to return to the program, though CBS did not offer details about when he might visit or on the particulars of Letterman's final broadcast scheduled for May 20. No details about any special programming that may be broadcast in tandem with the show's final weeks were disclosed.

SEE MORE: David Letterman's 'Late Show' Farewell Starts With A Simple Christmas Song

The announcement is one of the first CBS has made describing how Letterman's tenure will come to an end, and it may be one of only a few. The network typically maintains a "hands-off" policy in regard to its late-night host, leaving it to Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, to do broader communications about the man at the center of the show. A spokesman for Worldwide Pants did not respond immediately to a query about Letterman's intentions for his last weeks on air.

One school of thought has emerged that Letterman may choose to depart in much the same way as Johnny Carson, the iconic host of NBC's "Tonight Show," to whom many believe Letterman is the true successor in latenight TV.

David Letterman's Fashion Through the Years:

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David Letterman's fashion over the years
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David Letterman likely to exit 'Late Show' in low-key fashion
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Guest host David Letterman on March 26, 1979 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 8: MORK AND MINDY. David Letterman as Ellsworth in ' Mork goes Erk'. Original airdate February 8, 1979. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- Host David Letterman, cast/writers Edie McClurg, Valri Bromfield, Gerard Mulligan (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW -- Pictured: Host David Letterman with guests -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- Host David Letterman in Shubert Alley (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
David Letterman during 39th Annual Emmy Awards - September 20, 1987 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
David Letterman during The 37th Annual Emmy Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, CA, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - CIRCA 1983: Host David Letterman poses for a portrait in c.1983 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 19: NBC Newsman Edwin Newman and David Letterman on the David Letterman show. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and David Letterman (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Guest host David Letterman on March 26, 1979 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: David Letterman with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 7: Headshot of David Letterman for the show, 'Mary.' Image dated July 7, 1978. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 26: Comedian Joan Rivers shares a laugh with Dave when she visits the Late Show with David Letterman Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Jay Leno, host David Letterman -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Portrait of American talk show host David Letterman smiling at his home, Westchester County, New York, March 1984. (Photo by Susan Wood/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: David Letterman (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- Host David Letterman (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW -- Episode 36 -- Pictured: (l-r) President Jimmy Carter's son James 'Chip' Carter, host David Letterman on August 11, 1980 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Before broadcasting his last show on May 22, 1992 – nearly 23 years to the date of Letterman's scheduled departure date – Carson held fast to his routine. His penultimate program featured a serenade by Bette Midler and an appearance by Robin Williams. Carson's final "Tonight" appearance featured no guests, just the host chatting with his audience about the moment while playing the occasional series of clips from past programs. Longtime aides-de-camp Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen were also on set.

If the publicity-averse Letterman did want to gain a more intense spotlight on his exit, the time to do it would be now. Departures from late-night TV are announced months in advance of the actual event in order to give show staffers to make new plans;to gain support from advertisers who might like to tap the swell of viewers likely to result as the show moves toward its end; and to call viewer attention to the fact that a longtime host is getting ready to leave the airwaves. Jon Stewart announced his plans to leave Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" in February, even though he is not likely to step down until some time between July and the end of 2015.

SEE MORE: Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About 'The Late Show With David Letterman'

Yet Letterman is not known for craving the limelight outside of his appearances on his program. Other hosts may work to generate attention for a special series of shows, much as Conan O'Brien recently did for a trip he made to Cuba that was shown on TBS' "Conan." Letterman's activity outside the program has generally been rare in recent years, though he did produce a special promo for CBS' broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 and made an appearance at the network's "upfront" presentation to advertisers last year.

In the latter part of his career, Letterman has typically opted to do his talking on "The Late Show." That's where he discussed in April of last year his decision to retire; in 2009 his being made the victim of an extortion plot in which a former CBS News producer threatened to make public romantic liaisons between himself and female staffers on the show; and in 2001, his reactions to the terrorist attacks of September 11 of that year, often cited as a seminal moment in helping the nation return to a more normal routine.

Whether Letterman leaves in a hail of publicity or in more simple fashion, chances are it will make for memorable TV.

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