By Amy Ryan
Updated September 04, 2008 at 12:00 PM EDT

David Letterman rarely grants interviews, so Rolling Stone‘s lengthy new Q&A with the Late Show host has been getting a lot of media attention, especially for Dave’s unexpected expression of empathy for Jay Leno. (Dave takes one more whack at the GE pinheads who booted him in favor of Leno back in the day, and who’ve now given Leno the same unceremonious ouster in favor of Conan O’Brien. He also effectively invites Leno, to whom Dave turned a cold shoulder after he lost the Tonight Show job in 1992, to be a guest on Late Show as soon as his Tonight stint ends next May.) You can read an excerpt of the interview here, in which Dave discusses some of his more memorable guests. But none of this stuff is what intrigued me the most about what Letterman had to say.

Buried at the bottom of this New York Times summary of the interview is a remark from Letterman about his own not-too-distant retirement. While he expects to stay at least until 2010 but not much longer (my guess is he’ll retire in 2012 — that’ll give him an even 30 years in late night, the same as his idol, Johnny Carson), he believes that CBS’ transition to a new 11:30 host won’t be as messy as NBC’s have been. Asked who’ll succeed him, he says, “I don’t know this for a fact, but I have a feeling that all of that has been taken care of or discussed.”

Really? Does that mean CBS has already picked Dave’s successor? If so, who do you suppose it is? At the top of CBS’ wish list would have to be Jon Stewart; I hope that’s not the case. I like The Daily Show too much to lose him there; besides, he still doesn’t excel at interviewing guests, as Letterman does. I’d love to see CBS move Craig Ferguson up from 12:30 — not only does he do great interviews, but he also has the best monologue in late night (watch some of them here, listed under “Show and Tell”), and he’s even been beating Conan lately in the ratings (and Conan would be his competition again by the time Dave departs). Then again, there’s one seasoned candidate whose datebook may be completely open in 2012 or whenever: Jay Leno.

Who do you think CBS should hire to replace Letterman? And who do you think the network actually will hire?

UPDATE: NBC informs me that, despite some Ferguson victories over Conan, O’Brien’s Late Night frequently beats Craig’s Late Late Show in the ratings, most recently, last week (when Ferguson was in reruns). Duly noted.