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Friday, August 1, 2014 | Last updated: 9:30pm

Who will take Letterman's spot?



During the taping of Thursday’s “Late Show With David Letterman,” the iconic late-night host announced his plans to retire after his contract expires in 2015. While the announcement was mildly unexpected, it was hardly shocking. Last year, the CBS host renewed his deal for just one year, increasing speculation that his career might be coming to an end soon.

Earlier this year, Jimmy Fallon took over for Jay Leno on NBC and has earned great ratings. Fallon is much more appealing to young audiences than Letterman or ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, and thus has beaten both badly in the ratings. Since Fallon took over for Leno, he’s averaged about 4.3 million viewers an episode, which trumps Letterman’s 2.85 million and Kimmel’s 2.7.

Hollie McKay at Fox News cited a source that said the success of Fallon — a direct competitor — might have pushed Letterman out.
“David is older now; he had heart surgery some time ago and sees both Jimmy Kimmel as well as the more formidable Jimmy Fallon now gaining on him,” McKay’s source said. “Fallon is getting record ratings, so Letterman will segue out while he’s still on top. It’s dignified. If Fallon weren’t so hot, he might have stuck around longer.”

With Leno already gone, this decade will likely see a monumental changing of the guard in late-night television. Letterman’s departure is a huge industry shake-up. The 66-year-old has been on the airwaves for 32 years, the last 21 at CBS. He’s hosted nearly 6,000 episodes.

a4714lettermancourtesycmyk
 
Courtesy of 'The Late Show with David Letterman' Facebook / David Letterman, current host of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” recently announced that he will be retiring next year. Former NBC chief Bob Wright told Bloomberg TV that for the first time a woman may take Letterman’s place, with Tina Fey being a top choice for his successor.

Fallon, a well-rounded performer, has already moved away from Leno’s late-night purism. It’s been widely speculated that Letterman’s replacement will be someone who, like Fallon, can bring in bigger numbers with younger audiences.

Stephen Colbert — who is just behind Jon Stewart at Comedy Central — is a TV personality who already has a lot of popularity among the younger demographic. He excels at using the Internet, especially social media, to create viral content.

Bill Carter of the New York Times reported last week that Colbert has been keeping tabs on the CBS situation.

“Mr. Colbert has been aware of the coming change at CBS for some time,” Carter said. “His last few contracts at Comedy Central have been structured to match up with Mr. Letterman’s at CBS, according to a person with knowledge of the deals who said he was not authorized to speak publicly about them.”

Carter added that Colbert’s contract runs out at the end of 2014, which means he could negotiate with CBS.

And while Colbert seems like a natural fit, CBS would make a much bigger splash by replacing Letterman with a female host. There are good ones to be had.

Apart from Joan Rivers’ short-lived stint as “The Late Show” host in 1986, men have dominated the late-night landscape. That might be changing, as Ellen DeGeneres and Tina Fey are apparently on CBS’ shortlist.

Either would be a good fit. Fey’s success is on a steep upswing, though she may be reluctant to pigeonhole herself this early in her career. Taking over for Letterman would obviously stifle her ability to star in films and TV shows, among other things. However, her prowess as both a comedian and all-around performer could make her a late-night superstar.

DeGeneres is a much more realistic choice, as she already hosts a daytime TV show. She’s also coming off a decent performance hosting the Oscars. Her brand is good right now.

Letterman’s number two at CBS, Craig Ferguson, is thought of as a long shot for the job. The network considers his audience too narrow to compete with Fallon and Kimmel. CBS needs to hit a home run, and Ferguson would be a sacrifice. He’s fine where he is, but wouldn’t stand a chance in the competitive 11:35 p.m. time slot.
If there’s anything to read from CBS’ interest in Colbert, Fey and DeGeneres, it’s that the network understands the direction late-night television is headed. NBC took a bit of a risk with Fallon, and it’s paying off big time. Late-night television is moving away from the format of old. CBS knows it needs to make a splash, or it’ll be drowned in the ratings.


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