When David Letterman signs off for good from his late-night CBS talk show sometime next year, don't expect to hear much more from this legendary figure. However, another retiring icon, Barbara Walters, may continue to make public appearances after her official last day of work on May 16.
At least that's the view of Syracuse University pop culture/TV expert Robert Thompson.
Letterman, 66, made his debut on NBC in 1982 as host of "Late Night." With its Top 10 lists and Stupid Human Tricks, the show inspired a generation of comedians. After being passed over to succeed his mentor Johnny Carson as the host of "The Tonight Show" in 1993, Letterman moved to CBS (which is the parent of CBS MoneyWatch) and launched "The Late Show."
Carson largely stayed out of the public eye after leaving "The Tonight Show," though he made a brief and memorable appearance with Letterman. When Letterman, who spoke of wanting to spend more time with his family, leaves the stage of New York's Ed Sullivan Theater for the last time, he may avoid the limelight as well.
"It's going to be more of a Carson-like retirement," said Thompson, noting that Letterman is hardly a "social butterfly" now. "He basically does his own show, and that's about it."
The 84-year-old Walters may be a different story. She began her career in 1961 at NBC News as a writer and on-air reporter at the "Today" show before joining ABC News in 1976. Younger viewers know her best as the creator of "The View," which debuted 17 years ago and continues to be influential with her interview specials. The network has named the headquarters of ABC News in her honor.
"You can definitely call her a pioneer," Thompson said. "She was breaking gender barriers. ... She really turned the interview special into a genre."
Thompson thinks Walters could easily decide to do another show if she wanted to, though she also seems intent on taking it easy.
"I've worked for 50 years in television -- 37 years at ABC," Walters told AARP. "Why can't I do what I'd like to do? Maybe go to a movie or a museum, maybe sleep until 9, maybe see a friend. I look forward to not having every day planned, or having to be at a certain place at a certain time."
An ABC spokesperson said Walters "will continue to be an active part of 'The View' in her role as Executive Producer," and that she might make "special appearances as news warrants."
Sounds like she'll need to keep her skills sharp in retirement.