David Letterman announced this week that he's stepping down from the late-night pantheon in 2015. His tenure totals 33 years — he will have hosted Late Show With David Letterman for 22 years and before that he hosted NBC's Late Night for 11 years. With the game now dominated by the younger, social networking-savvy Jimmies, the time had come for the icon to bow out gracefully. (Here's a YouTube vid of his announcement in case you missed it.)
Expect Letterman's contribution to the talk show genre to be touted in TV shows and publications for the year to come — and after. Letterman provided a nerdy, dry-humored template for a slew of talking head celebs who professed to follow in his footsteps — especially Conan O'Brien, the comedic writer/performer who snatched the pebble from his hand in 1993.
One of my personal favorites to take over the reins and follow once again in Letterman's footsteps is O'Brien. He's as approachable and clever as he is kooky. The TBS host's recent report from the Mary Kay Headquarters in Dallas shows that he's still got this.
Karmically speaking, the networks should throw Conan a bone. The public outcry over his mistreatment during his abrupt departure from The Tonight Show would make CBS appear to be righting a historic wrong, but chances are slim that the execs will gamble on him again. The poor reception (read: handling) of his last takeover might mar his chances. When Conan replaced Leno in 2009, Letterman's Nielsen ratings improved. History didn't repeat when Fallon took over. The Tonight Show has averaged 5.2 million viewers, while Letterman has averaged 2.7 million and Kimmel 2.65 million since Jimmy took the reins, according to the Nielsen company.
Chelsea Handler is a favorite, but it's hard to imagine her bending to the will of network execs. Ellen DeGeneres is a contender too, but she's so entrenched her daytime role, it's almost unimaginable to see her in the more low key, less rah-rah late-night format.
Here are some other talents to consider: Tina Fey or Amy Poehler. SNL vets are cherry-picked for the assignment and both have popped their hosting cherry worldwide for last year's Golden Globes. Even better, what about Maya Rudolph? She's a mixed-race, female, SNL vet who's multitalented and still a tad under the hill and with it.
San Francisco comedian W. Kamau Bell didn't get a fair shot when his promising series Totally Biased was unceremoniously canceled, and he has the requisite smarts, charisma, savvy and hipster quotient — and he's a relatively younger African American. Stephen Colbert has proven that his talents extend beyond the shtick of his right-wing caricature and has a knack for big surprises. Another white male but no less deserving of the gig is Chris Hardwick — attractive, babyfaced, and versatile; he's a writer, host and comedian. These days Hardwick hosts @midnight, a nightly comedy game show series on Comedy Central.
CL's editors and writers weighed in on their favorites for The Late Show gig.
Bill Murray. Because Bill Murray. —Scott Harrell, CL Online/Managing Editor
If at all possible (and it's likely not), Jimmy Kimmel. He certainly has the chops and Letterman has been his idol his whole life. ... Also, Chris Hardwick. He has years of experience hosting TV shows (he currently has two) and the format requires the talents of a stand up comedian, which he is. —Erik Hahmann, CL Artbreaker/TV Contributor
Chelsea Handler — She's not renewing her talk show, she's not afraid to ask embarrassing questions and people already know her as an entertaining source of celebrity interviews. —Michael Murillo, CL Artbreaker/Comedy Contributor
Aisha Tyler, because she's funny as fuck and we need a female now. —CL ArtBreaker Contributor Aaron Alper
Kevin Nealon or Norm Macdonald. Weekend Update alums seem to be ruling late night and either of these guys are funnier than Fallon and Meyers combined. —Kevin Tall, CL ArtBreaker Contributor
Kevin Hart, Charles Barkley or Ellen Degeneres — because a selfie is worth a thousand in ratings ... or actually millions. —Chris Girandola, CL Sports Contributor.
Larry David because then they'd only have to change half the sign. —Natalie Campisi Tarpley, CL ArtBreaker Contributor
Jimmy Kimmel. Simply the funniest guy in late night currently. —Mitch Perry, CL News/Political Animal Editor
Stephen Colbert because he's a real fucking American. —Nicole Abbett, CL Artbreaker Contributor/Photographer
Not that she'd ever get or want the job, but Chelsea Handler seems like she doles out the same brand of acerbic humor. And it'd be nice to see a woman in a network late night slot, although if they did actually put a woman in there, I imagine who ever it was, they'd make some terrible choice like Katie Couric or Ellen DeGeneres. As far as men go, it'd also be nice to see Conan O'Brien taken out of basic cable exile, although I like his TBS show when I catch it. Or, in life-imitating-art fashion, Louis CK, copying one of the recent plotlines of his Comedy Central TV Show Louie.
— Leilani Polk, CL Music/Ear Buds Contributor