NEW YORK -- David Letterman has accepted a multimillion-dollar deal to move his late night talk show to CBS in August after his contract with NBC runs out, CBS announced Thursday.
Howard Stringer, president of the CBS/Broadcast Group, said Letterman's show will premiere on CBS in an 11:30 p.m. Monday-through- Friday time slot -- going head-to-head with Jay Leno on NBC's 'Tonight Show,' ABC's 'Nightline' and Paramount's syndicated 'Arsenio Hall Show.'
'This time period should have belonged to Dave a long time ago and now it will,' Stringer said. 'He's smart, he's thoughtful, he's original, he's daring and he's fun. We are delighted to welcome Dave and his very talented team to the CBS family.'
At a new conference at CBS's headquarters in Manhattan, the cigar- chomping Letterman said, 'As some of you may know, for the last year- and-a-half, I've kind of been interested in doing a show a little earlier than the one I'm doing now.
'That reality has come to pass, but what ultimately makes me happy and satisfied is I get to come here and do it at CBS,' he said.
Letterman has been at odds with NBC since it bypassed him and gave Leno the 'Tonight' show when Johnny Carson retired last spring. He has also openly criticized NBC for its concern with the bottom line and for the sale of 'Late Night' reruns to the Arts & Entertainment cable network.
CBS Chairman Lawrence Tisch and Stringer flanked the lanky talk show host at the news conference. Tisch said he was 'truly delighted to welcome this great star to the CBS network.'
At the taping of his Thursday show in New York, Letterman told the audience that his last day at NBC would be June 25 and quipped, 'Don't mind me. I'm just a temp.'
Published reports have estimated CBS will pay Letterman between $14 million and $16 million a year. Letterman refused to disclose the exact amount of his contract, saying, 'It's enough to buy a pack of gum.'
'This deal certainly would have put a smile on Jack Benny's face,' Letterman said. 'Even in the condition he's in now, he would have found reason to smile.'
Letterman said he hopes 'to reward (CBS's) confidence in me by never having to go anywhere else again as long as we're doing television.'
He also said the specific CBS premiere date and the question of whether the show will continue taping in New York had not yet been determined.
Letterman said he hopes to hire the entire staff of 'Late Night with David Letterman' from NBC and would like to remain in New York if possible.
At an earlier NBC news conference, Entertainment President Warren Littlefield announced Letterman's long-rumored departure at the Television Critics Association meeting in Santa Monica, Calif.
Reports emerged this week thatNBC considered giving Letterman the 11:30 p.m. slot now occupied by Leno but decided against doing so. NBC would have to pay a reported $10 million penalty to Leno if it broke its contract with the 'Tonight Show' host.
Leno rode up on a motorcycle to the podium and stood at Littlefield's side as the executive made the announcement of Letterman's departure.
'I have the job,' Leno told the crowd. 'What we're celebrating here is that I haven't been fired.'
Leno also said he remained friends with Letterman during the recent months of negotiations.
'Throughout these negotiations, it has not been a case of somebody trying to screw somebody else,' he said. 'It was a matter of, 'Hey, it's an important job and everybody would like to have it.''
Littlefield said NBC would replace Letterman in the 12:30 a.m. slot with a show from the producers of 'Saturday Night Live.'
There has been widespread speculation that comedian Dana Carvey, a regular on 'SNL' and star of the movie 'Wayne's World,' would replace Letterman. Comedian Dennis Miller and Bob Costas, who hosts NBC's talk show in the 1 a.m. slot, were also reported as being considered as replacements for Letterman.
Letterman, 45, will celebrate his 11th anniversary on 'Late Night' on Feb. 1. His current contract with NBC pays him about $7 million a year to perform at 12:30 a.m.
Analysts estimate NBC makes $70 million to $100 million annually from the Leno and Letterman shows.
The announcements about Letterman's move to CBS came a day before the deadline for NBC to match the CBS offer.
Letterman's original contract would have expired in April, but he agreed several months ago to extend it for two months in exchange for NBC's permission to contact other potential employers, with the understanding that NBC then would have first shot at matching other job offers.
CBS's deal will make Letterman one of the highest paid personalities in the entertainment field. Leno reportedly earns only $3 million a year, but the fighting over Letterman is believed to have prompted NBC to either give or promise Leno a big salary boost.
The CBS offer is expected to give Letterman ownership of the show and permit him to produce a second late-night program that would follow his own show.