Letterman to Retire from ‘The Late Show’ in 2015 – Who Will Replace Him?

Published 1 year ago by

Though it sprung up out of the ashes of David Letterman’s dashed campaign to succeed Johnny Carson as the host of The Tonight Show, Letterman has built The Late Show into an institution that has rivaled NBC’s preeminent late night talker in reverence over the last two decades.

Letterman is, simply put, a titan on par with the late night greats, but as they once stepped away so too will Letterman, who reportedly announced that he is retiring from The Late Show in 2015 during tonight’s taping, thus closing off a career in late night that began more than 30 years ago.

A weatherman in Indiana, Letterman moved to Los Angeles in the mid-70s to embark on a career in comedy, landing various writing jobs and a slot on the Tonight Show as guest host. An irreverent but ultimately unsuccessful morning show on NBC would follow, but Letterman didn’t truly find his audience until 1982 with the debut of Late Night, an unhinged late night talker that followed Carson (whose company produced the show).

Much has been said about the controls that Carson’s production company put on Letterman during the show’s infancy – Carson limited what guests Letterman could book, the comedic tone, and the composition of the band – but those rules pushed Letterman away from the establishment and into a show that would be embraced by the counter culture for its irreverence.

david letterman retiring 570x294 Letterman to Retire from The Late Show in 2015   Who Will Replace Him?

Late Night with David Letterman felt dangerous and different. There was an attitude, a subtle rebellion against Carson (who Letterman idolized) and the old way. Remote segments, avant-garde humor, and the show’s boundary-free style captivated college age audiences, allowing Late Night and Letterman to influence the shape of comedy and culture in a profound way that will still be felt for decades to come.

With The Late Show, Letterman finally got a chance to reach a broader audience and step out from under Carson’s shadow. But while his primary competitor, Jay Leno’s iteration of The Tonight Show, consistently topped Letterman’s show in the ratings, The Late Show won its share of admirers and viewers, allowing Letterman to flourish in his new time slot.

Over the last two decades, Letterman’s tone has changed to a degree but it has occurred naturally as an organic result of aging and not as some kind of wholesale change made to court that broader audience. There’s still room for silly on the show, but the host has appeared more cranky and less game at times – with his comedic aggressiveness less likely to be tempered by his gap-toothed grin.

david letterman retiring cbs desk Letterman to Retire from The Late Show in 2015   Who Will Replace Him?

There is also a serious side that Letterman has displayed often, specifically following his heart scare back in 2000. In his first episode back following 9/11, during his talk with Warren Zevon before his death, and his tribute to Carson after his passing, Letterman has – while still maintaining his cutting wit and instincts – somewhat transformed himself into a late night statesman, something that we will soon be without in the midst of the very obvious youth movement that is afoot in late night.

Is that movement – highlighted by Jimmy Fallon’s early success with The Tonight Show – partially behind Letterman’s decision to step aside next year? In his address to his audience tonight (above), Letterman made it clear that he was the one that picked up the phone, but it is possible that Letterman read the writing on the wall. Surely CBS would never push him out, but perhaps, in a bit of cruel irony, Letterman came to the conclusion that he had just about given all he can to the show, and that late night belongs to the young, a reality that he had a heavy hand in crafting.

How much of a hand Letterman will have in choosing his replacement is unknown. Obviously, both Letterman and the network will likely move to make the transition as swift and painless as possible, but as of right now (and with all due respect to Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson) there really are no slam dunk candidates.

What do you think about David Letterman’s decision to step away from The Late Show: is his timing right and who do you think his replacement will be?


The Late Show with David Letterman airs weeknights on CBS @11:35PM

Source: CBS News

Follow Jason Tabrys on Twitter @jtabrys
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  1. One word: Coco

    • Yes indeed, I like cocoa too. I usually have a cup of it before I go to bed, and maybe a few cookies, shortbread if you please. Nummy-yummy, everybody!!

    • @Jones

      Seriously dude, I’d prefer Conan to stay at cable. Why? Coz he have the freedom to say/do whatever his red hair wants.

      I saw his show recently. And Coco was being his usual old self (pre-Tonight Show gig).

      He’s happy at cable. Unless of course, CBS will offer him crazy money to jump ship.

  2. one word: agreed

    • Several words: I doubt he wants to jump networks (again) and go (back) to New York. Not against the idea but its not going to happen in my opinion.

  3. Good riddance.
    This guy still thinks pulling his socks up is still funny.

    Bring in Craig Ferguson.

    • Craig is great, but his show is done before a tiny audience. If he were to move to 11:30 then his entire show would need to change. It would cease being what it is. Unless Craig desperately wants the 11:30 slot then I think a “new” face would be better.

      Dave is a legend.

      • +1 This^

        I love Craig Ferguson and the reason you gave ia exactly why he shouldn’t take Dave’s place. It wouldn’t be the same show anymore.

        • it isn’t the same show anymore. The suits have come in the changed the show into a shadow of the former fun show. You can tell the Craig is tired of it and just going through the motions.

  4. Who is Dave’s audience? What are the numbers? My guess is that is that is an older audience. So CBS can either seek to keep the audience they have or go in a different direction.

    My suggestion for Dave’s ideal replacement would be Drew Carey. He has plenty of experience with stand-up, improv, hosting, sketch comedy, etc. He knows many comedians, writers, celebrities. He has had a colorful life. He could potentially grab large portions of Dave’s audience and Jay’s audience.

    • You’re right, his numbers have been declining like crazy for years. Ever since he got political and mean. And it is an older demo. I’ve never liked him, always thought he was a mean prick. I think Drew Carey would be a great choice but he’s getting older too and I’m sure they want to shoot for a younger demo. It’ll never happen but Chris Hardwick would kick ass.

      • The younger demo is sown-up with Colbert, Fallon and Kimmel. Dave and Jay had the older demo. Drew is the best bet to pull that audience in regularly imo. Craig has the slot on seniority, but Drew will bring in a bigger audience. Craig’s show is somewhat like what Dave’s original 12:30 show was like.

        Dave is Dave, he didn’t get political he just doesn’t give a s*** and speaks his mind. It is why he and Howard are friends. No argument that his has a huge ego and can be a dick though.

      • Bingo!

    • As far as Dave’s audience, I couldn’t tell you because I’m not American but I only just turned 30 a few months back and while I haven’t seen the show in a good few years, I always preferred Letterman. He was the only late night talk show host I found funny, the rest were boring or just horrible to watch.

      Damn shame Dave’s retiring but I guess his age and medical history are catching up to him now.

  5. Luis CK

    • Would not want the job. Have you ever read an interview with him?

    • Have you seen the late night episode on Louie? It’s obvious he doesn’t want to do that, I believe the point behind that story arc was to poke fun at ongoings behind late night shows.

  6. The only name I can think of is Jon Stewart. He has the experience, the talent, and public appeal for the job. Craig Ferguson is great at what he does, but like Conan found out, I don’t think that works as well at 11:30. Chris Hardwick could do well, too. Then again, I am a Nerdist fanboy.

    • Yeah Jon Stewart…. Then we can have another left-wing late night show. I am with ya on Hardwick though. He just needs to stop laughing at everything his guests say.

    • Comedy central is not giving up the Daily Show and Colbert to CBS. Jon Stewart is the Daily Show, he will retire as anchor of the Daily Show, but not anytime soon hopefully.

      Chris Hardwick has a show on CC.

      • I like Hardwick at times but I really really hope he isn’t in the running.
        You would think that after almost 500 episodes of his podcast that he would be getting better at interviewing people but he actually seems to be getting worse.

  7. My guess is if Craig doesnt take the job, the next logical choice would be Drew Carey. Its not gonna be the same without Letterman. Ive watched him for as long as I can remember.

  8. Never found him funny at all. Then again…never watched him or leno. Good riddance !

    • So somebody that you didn’t watch you didn’t think was very funny. Imagine that!

      • yeah only caught some snippits on the news when there was something on him or Leno…and I just didn’t get their jokes. Sorry.

  9. If for some reason Craig did take the job then I would want Joel McHale to do the Late Late Show. It just seems right to me…

    • He would own the 38+ demo on Late Night TV.

  10. If she would leave the NBC family, Tina Fey would be perfect. Not because there needs to be diversity, but just because she is one of the funniest people alive. It would create a great rivalry with fallon too. If not, then Jon Stewart

    • Tina is great. No doubt there is a lack of female late night hosts. There is also a lack of late night hosts who appeal to an older, more conservative demographic.

      If Tina had wanted a late night sow then she would have one.

      • Jay Leno pulled ratings from the Midwest like no other, except Johnny of course.

        • Yep. Leno had the best ratings of all of them. He was pushed out because he ripped Obama. He was the ONLY one who ripped Obama. Wake up kids…..

          • What are you talking about? Jay Leno did well because he is a terrific stand-up comedian and he knows his audience, whether in a small club or on TV for millions. Jay is a pro, Dave is a pro.

            If you think Jay is the only late nite comedian making jokes about politics, or POTUS specifically then you must live a very dark hole somewhere.

  11. This is a little off the wall for a choice way out beyond the backstop, but how about Martin Short? You want funny, he could be pretty funny in some of the skits with some of the characters he created. Ed Grimley especially comes to mind. He could incorporate some of his character skits (of course this might change the format just a teensy little bit) plus he has the contacts of a large stable of people in the industry–especialy comedians–who he could recruit to appear on the show. Granted, he is more a comedy guy than an interview guy per se, but I’ll bet he could assimulate into the role quite easily.

  12. Jaime Foxx, if he wasn’t a mega huge star would be perfect for the job.

  13. Since this isn’t going to happen until at least the middle of next year, this is something that is going to be getting LOTS of rumors. Of course Craig Ferguson is the obvious choice because his show is produced by Dave’s production company, but I wouldn’t want Craig to change as I love his show. He is the BEST Late Night host, IMO. If it’s not Craig, then it will probably be someone out of left field.

  14. Craig Ferguson- Natural choice, but not sure how it would rate
    Drew Carey- would grab the older demo
    Conan O’Brian- probably the best overall choice
    Joel McHale, Chris Hardwick- wild cards

    • Craig has seniority and the most direct link to Dave. He could easily handle a larger show, but it would need to be a different show than what he does now. One thought is for him to run counter-programming by doing a more serious talk show at 11:30.

      Drew Carey is the obvious choice in my mind. He works for CBS. He has connections, experience, a fan base and a mainstream/midwest/35+ appeal greater than anyone else listed. The question is would he want it? He does not need the money.

      Conan is locked up in a contract. So he is stuck where he is. He should have stayed at 12:30, he was a better fit at 12:30.

      Joel is more plausible than Chris. But, I think both are unlikely.

      The person below suggested Norm McD and that is an inspired choice. Maybe too dark for 11:30.

  15. How about Tom Green or Norm McDonald?

  16. I’m still convinced Neil Patrick Harris would make an amazing late night host. He’s been great when hosting award shows, he has ties to CBS, and his series HIMYM just ended so he’s free. The Late Show also films in NYC so he could still occasionally do some stuff on Broadway if he wanted.

    • That’s a brilliant idea. Besides, who DOESN’T love NPH?

      Best replacement suggestion I’ve seen so far.

  17. Sadly I think it will be someone like Ryan Seacrest that will appeal to a large crowd. I would like to see Bill Maher but that may change his style to much trying to appeal to wider fan base. I wouldn’t mind seeing a woman step in the role Tina Fay or Sarah Silverman perhaps.

  18. Bruce Willis has done it before. Or maybe Chuck Norris…?

  19. Here are my preferred choices…

    Conan – I love Conan, and if he’d be willing to switch networks (again), then he’d be the perfect choice to replace Dave (again).

    Craig – Craig’s show has it’s moments (haven’t seen much of it) but I think he’d do great. Although, his show would have to change, if that were the case.

    Joel McHale – I swear to God, if this happens, I will freak the hell out. I love Joel McHale and I do believe that he would do a spectacular job at this.

    Neil Patrick Harris or Josh Radnor – Either one, since they both came from CBS’s How I Met Your Mother Anyway, would be great. We all know that NPH has hosting skills, I’d like to see them applied to a late night show. Josh Radnor is a wild card, IMO but he might not do bad. Also, both could grab the younger demographic to compete with Fallon.

    But my most out-field choice…

    Matthew Perry – We know him. We love him. We know that he’s funny and he’s got the experience. I’d love to see Matthew Perry take a swing at this. He’d be awesome.

    • Conan would be perfect altogether if he could get out of his contract. He would not only be replacing Dave again, but has the similar background of being screwed over by NBC. Good news is that he could afford the buyout, which NBC would essentially pay for. He seems to love cable, though, and TBS loves him. I think he definitely merges the older and younger demos better than anyone in the field.

      Radnor looks too much like Fallon, when I think this is the time to stand out. Pretty much need a young host (sorry, Drew), but a female or non-white male could really make it a war, though there is high risk.

      I like Perry, but wonder if he’d cut ties with NBC.

  20. Just for fun…

    1. Richard Simmons
    2. Regis Phillbin
    3. Larry King
    4. Piers Morgan
    5. Oprah


  21. Rant says my comment appears to be spam hah. So I’ll make this short — Coco (but it would be really, really difficult going against Fallon every night).

  22. I just saw on a news feed that Stephen Colbert is CBS’s top choice to replace Letterman.

    • Just can’t see the ladies leaving NBC. Queen actually has a talk show on BET now, I believe. I think Conan could tie together the younger and older demographics better than most. I wonder, though, if CBS should look toward a woman or non-white male to really stand out and grab a new audience.

  23. Oh, for gosh sakes, just hire me as the late-night comedian and be done with it!