NEW YORK (AP) -- David Letterman's departure from the late-night realm won't just end an unmatched run on television. It also will close the book on an era reaching almost to the birth of TV.
During a taping of Thursday's edition of "Late Show," Letterman startled his audience with the news that he will step down in 2015, when his current contract with CBS expires.
He specified no end date, saying he expects his exit will be in "at least a year or so, but sometime in the not too distant future -- 2015, for the love of God, (band leader) Paul (Shaffer) and I will be wrapping things up."
What he'll be wrapping up is three decades on the air -- the longest tenure of any late-night talk show host in U.S. television history -- since he launched "Late Night" at NBC in 1982.
But more than that, he'll be ending a lineage of late-night hosts who pioneered talk and humor in the wee hours -- Johnny Carson, of course, and, before him, Jack Paar and especially Steve Allen.
Since premiering with "Late Show" in 1993, Letterman, who turns 67 next week, has reigned at Broadway's Ed Sullivan Theater, a historic venue nearly a century old that was famously home to "The Ed Sullivan Show."
The Los Angeles-based Leno, 63, retired from "The Tonight Show" this year, clearing the way, not by his choice, for "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon to move up to that TV institution.
In contrast to Leno, Letterman's leave-taking appears to be his choice.