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

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David Letterman through the years
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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)
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)
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)
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)
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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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