Letterman seeks more than $16m after 20 years in TV

The American chat show host David Letterman plans to celebrate 20 years in the role by negotiating a contract that is likely to make him the highest-paid television presenter.

Letterman, who made his debut on late night television on NBC in 1982 and moved to CBS in 1993, passed the 20-year milestone with last night's broadcast of Late Show with David Letterman.

His current contract, worth an estimated $16m (£11.3m) a year, will expire this summer. His spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter magazine: "We're talking with CBS." The network's executives declined to comment.

If he is successful, Letterman will earn more than Katie Couric, the 44-year-old presenter of Today, who amid much furore signed a contract said to be worth between $13m (£9.2m) and $16m with NBC news last year.

Letterman's 20-year stint is a long one, even by the standards of American television, and there had been reports that he might want a new direction. But he is known to have been reinvigorated by the praise he received for his response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September, when he broke down in tears on television. Associates say he may still opt for just a two to three-year renewal to his contract even if the network wants a longer commitment.

A rise in earnings would place him in an unrivalled position, even among that rare breed of American talk show celebrities. Last month it was revealed that Larry King, the veteran talk show host noted for his brightly coloured braces, was negotiating a pay rise that would earn him about $14m (£9.9m) a year. The New York Post said the deal would bind Mr King to his employer, CNN, for a further four years.

Meanwhile, ITV2 has renewed its exclusive British transmission contract for Late Show With David Letterman for a further year.

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