David Letterman's Late-Night Run Made Him a Very Rich Man

David Letterman is a former late-night talk-show host who spent the majority of his career hosting the Late Show with David Letterman—and he has the net worth to prove it. In the 1980s, he remade late-night TV with his snarky, sharp sense of humor, and even in later years was known for fun bits including “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Stupid Human Tricks.”

In 2023, Letterman returned as a guest on the Late Show for the first time since he retired in 2015. When asked what he missed the most about hosting, he replied, “I miss everything. Mostly it's fun. Very few things in life provide one the opportunity [where], if you muck one up, 24 hours later you get to try again. And that's a pretty good device.”

Hosting that many TV episodes also adds up to a lot of money, especially over decades. Here’s a look at Letterman’s career and how much he earned in his 33 years of late-night hosting—plus, what he’s up to now and what he's making for it.

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How did David Letterman get his start?

Like most late-night hosts, Letterman has a background in comedy. His first TV job was actually as a weatherman in Indianapolis, but even then he was known for his humor on air. In 1975 he moved to Los Angeles and started doing stand-up at the Comedy Store. By 1978 he’d made his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

The Tonight Show would end up being Letterman’s meal ticket. Coming on as a stand-up comedian, he became a favorite guest of Carson’s and would appear on the show a total of 22 times. In 1982, NBC hired him to host Late Night with David Letterman, a younger-generation alternative to Carson’s show.

He enjoyed that spot for 11 years—until Carson retired from The Tonight Show in the early ‘90s, and Letterman was shockingly passed up for host (with Jay Leno winning the job instead). This led to Letterman’s departure from NBC and the start of his lucrative partnership with CBS on the Late Show.

What is David Letterman's net worth in 2024?

David Letterman has an estimated net worth of $400 million in 2024, according to Celebrity Net Worth. He’s earned the bulk of this from decades as a late-night TV host, though continued work with Netflix and residuals from his production company mean he’s still making millions in his “retirement.”

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What was David Letterman's salary on the Late Show?

When Letterman first signed on to the Late Show in 1993, he inked a three-year contract for $42 million—or $14 million per year. Although he’d just lost out on the gig at The Tonight Show, which most people expected him to fill after Carson’s retirement, in many ways the Late Show was the better deal. CBS gave Letterman ownership of the show plus a pretty sweet production budget, and the 11:30 p.m. time slot placed him head-to-head with Tonight.

Of course, Letterman would stay on for 22 years and his salary would rise substantially. In his final years as host, he earned over $30 million per season, according to Forbes.

Was Letterman the longest-serving late-night host?

Letterman was the longest-serving late-night host, though he’s now retired. With 11 years at the helm of NBC’s Late Night and 22 years hosting CBS’s The Late Show, he has a grand total of 33 years under his belt, surpassing even the late, great Johnny Carson. Those 33 years encompassed 6,028 episodes of late-night television and made him one of the most beloved TV hosts in American history.

Does David Letterman have a current TV show?

Although Letterman left cable TV when he retired from The Late Show in 2015, he’s not completely out of the game. In 2017, Netflix announced a new show to be hosted by Letterman, where the late-night legend would spend each episode interviewing a famous person.

"I feel excited and lucky to be working on this project for Netflix,” Letterman said in a statement. “Here’s what I have learned, if you retire to spend more time with your family, check with your family first.”

The first season of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman premiered in January 2018, and featured guests such as Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Tina Fey. The show met with success and released three more seasons, with a fifth premiering June 12, 2024.

What does Netflix pay David Letterman?

According to Variety, when Letterman struck his 2017 deal with Netflix it was for $2 million per episode, or $12 million total for the first season.

While contract details for the subsequent seasons have not been released, he’s likely earning the same amount or even more, which translates to over $50 million total for five seasons.

Who is richer, David Letterman or Jay Leno?

Jay Leno just edges out David Letterman as the richer former late-night host, with an estimated net worth of $450 million—about $50 million more than Letterman’s. The difference is likely lost on these two men, who continue to make millions through various TV projects.

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