Monday, April 07, 2014

Who will replace David Letterman?

After longtime Late Show host David Letterman publicly announced his plans to retire in 2015 during the taping of last night's show in New York City, there has been rampant speculation regarding who his replacement will be.

The general rules of succession, if they were to ever apply, clearly state that current Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson would inherit the Late Show hosting duties. The only problem is that Ferguson has cultivated a very unique brand of oddball humor for his later time slot and while there is no doubt in my mind that he could adapt to an earlier time and appeal to a wider audience, the general consensus is that he is extremely happy right where he is.

The next logical guess in Jon Stewart, current host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Viacom and CBS used to be corporate siblings so the familial ties are sort of there. Stewart is a phenomenal interviewer and has shown through the years that he is equally comfortable interviewing politicians, athletes and movie stars. He is definitely a strong contender but a Jon Stewart helmed Late Show at CBS would be a virtual carbon copy of what Letterman has cultivated. That's not a bad thing at all but the face of late night television is changing. Jimmy Fallon has brought the wacky to The Tonight Show with skits and games involving his guests. I can't see Jon Stewart bringing anything close to that to the table. And maybe that's a good thing. Not every show needs to be a carbon copy of the others. With that being said, consider Jon Stewart the front runner.

Another interesting name being tossed about is Louis C.K.. On the last season of Louie on FX, the stand-up comedian even went as far as to pen a multi-part episode in which he was asked to audition to be the replacement for David Letterman in a surreal series of events which included David Lynch directing him and taping the audition. In classic Louie fashion it was awkward as hell and of course the powers at CBS were playing him against Letterman all to be able to get Letterman to agree to a bit less money. Yet another scenario in which Louie came out in the end as the loser. Expect real life to, again, play out like his life on the TV series. Louis C.K. would be an interesting choice and he has the chops to do an amazing monologue (as he proved once again during his second time hosting SNL) but to the best of my knowledge he has never interviewed another celebrity, a politician or an average Joe. Louis C.K. gets placed in the longshot category.

This brings us to another television actor and comedian, Tina Fey. If CBS were to go in the direction of the lovably awkward Tina Fey, it would be a landmark choice. First off, Fey would be the first female late night host (yeah, I’m discounting the existence of Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes and Joan Rivers) and it would also be following somewhat in the footsteps of Letterman in that her career, as well, truly took off at NBC with her role on SNL then her starring role on 30 Rock as well as producing sitcoms at the peacock network. Fey, again, is unproven as an interviewer but is hugely familiar with a live environment from her days behind the Weekend Update desk at SNL and her recent co-hosting gigs on The Golden Globes. I doubt, though, that Fey would go head-to-head against her former counterparts (Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers) as these guys are her friends but a cross-network competition between friends could be far more interesting that the back-biting of days gone by was between Letterman and Jay Leno. One big lovefest is better than a bitter rivalry. I'll put Tina Fey in the middle of the pack of contenders.

Next up is Stephen Colbert. His name as a possible successor to David Letterman is a somewhat fresh addition to the list of contenders. Colbert cut his teeth at a satirist under the tutelage of Jon Stewart at The Daily Show and now has his own made up persona at The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. He has a satirical and somewhat dry wit, he can interview, he has had experience with the traditional musical guests that would be an integral part of any network televised late night program and Viacom-owned Comedy Central was once affiliated with CBS. Stephen Colbert may be less polarizing than Jon Stewart when it comes to political guests as a potential Late Night host because anyone with any common sense realizes that Colbert is playing a character on his current series. It is widely known that he has liberal leanings but I feel that Colbert is capable of asking tough questions when needed as well as doing the typical schmoozing that the job demands. Colbert is a definite front-runner.

We can't forget about Chelsea Handler. She is leaving behind her rather lucrative gig at E! (which she called something along the lines of a cess-pool and a horrible place to work which sort of serves as a way to sever ties with the entire Comcast television universe including NBC). She has hosted Chelsea Lately on E! for seven years with a contract ending in 2015. Her choice, too, would be a landmark move with a female late night host on network television. There are drawbacks, too. Handler is brash and her comedy style can be a bit abrasive to say the least. On the flip side, though, having a brash and unapologetic late night host on network television would be a huge departure from the norm as everyone else seems to be in the business of kissing ass rather than being honest. Chelsea Handler's sometimes profanity-laced comedy would be an interesting companion to that of Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson who routinely gets edited and/or bleeped by the CBS censors. Hell, he almost makes a game out of it and I have a feeling that Handler would as well but she has a temper and would likely fail to accept it meaning that she would butt heads with CBS management frequently and her existence would be stressful and her time spent at CBS would probably be short because of her temper. Chelsea Handler is a definite dark horse as a replacement for David Letterman.

A number of other possibilities are being tossed around including Jerry Seinfeld (too rich), Jon Oliver (too green), Neil Patrick Harris (an actual middle of the road contender with strong hosting skills and an existing CBS presence), Ricky Gervais (too abrasive and British), Joel McHale (doubtful unless taping of the sixth season of Community is its last and contingent on the length of his contract at E! - the bonus is that he does stand-up comedy) and then there's Craig Ferguson who stands to win no matter what happens. He gets a $5 million payday if he gets passed over as Letterman's replacement but he likes the low expectations of his later time slot. Ferguson's brand of comedy fits the time period he is currently in and if moved an hour earlier he would likely suffer the same fate as Conan O'Brien did at NBC. However, Ferguson is already in Los Angeles and would beat out NBC who has both of their  late night programs based in New York City.

Truly, the Letterman replacement race boils down to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris. The next year or so should be very interesting.

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