David Letterman is set to make some serious cash for his upcoming Netflix series. While nobody doubted that Netflix wrote a big check to lure Letterman out of retirement, the amount he's getting per episode is likely to shock many, both within and outside the industry itself. In fact, he's making so much that it wouldn't be surprising to learn that other talk show hosts engaged in angry conversations with their agents after finding out Letterman's salary.
On the other hand, it can easily be argued that Letterman is worth paying out the big bucks, as the now 70-year-old host has been a late night staple since signing on to host Late Night with David Letterman for NBC back in 1982. Letterman would host Late Night until 1993, departing NBC after losing out to Jay Leno in the competition to succeed Tonight Show host Johnny Carson at the network. Undeterred, Letterman hopped over to CBS, creating The Late Show franchise, and hosting the program until his retirement from TV in 2015.
As announced earlier this month, Letterman's retirement is soon to end, as he'll be returning to host a new limited-run talk show for Netflix. The as-yet-untitled chat show is currently set to run for six episodes, although presumably more could be ordered if Netflix is pleased with the series' performance with subscribers. Now, Variety reports that Netflix will pay Letterman a cool $2 million per each of the 6 episodes, adding up to a $12 million total salary for season 1 of his new show.
To put that number in perspective, Letterman's Late Night successor Conan O'Brien makes $12 million per year for his current TBS show, while broadcast network hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert make $15 million per year, and Jimmy Fallon makes $16 million. Yet, all of those hosts do four to five new episodes per week for that large chunk of cash. Thus, Letterman is getting paid as much or close to what each of those guys makes per year for producing only six hours of content, while Conan, Fallon, and company are required to produce hundreds of hours.
Netflix's large payment to Letterman continues the streaming giant's strategy of offering whatever it takes to lure in big names, such as the $20 million per new stand-up special paid to comedy titans Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dave Chappelle. With Netflix reported to be billions of dollars in debt, though, one wonders how long they'll be able to keep these massive paydays up.