Later tonight (at the time of writing this), David Letterman will take the stage as host of CBS’ Late Show one final time before handing the baton over to newcomer Stephen Colbert in September. However, none of the man’s colleagues are all that interested in letting the veteran comedian go quietly into the night.
Over the last few days, many late-night hosts have taken time out of their lives to acknowledge the impact Letterman had on them, as well as the entire genre of late-night television. From Stewart to Fallon to Kimmel and everyone in between, no one was without an opinion in the lead up to tonight’s big event.
Kimmel’s farewell is one of the more emotional ones for sure, but it seems to go without saying that everyone is getting chocked up by the Letterman exit regardless of standing within the late-night game. The reason for this is mostly due to the fact that the ending of Letterman’s full-time professional career isn’t just a marking of the end of a legacy, but also a generation. Letterman is the last man standing of the old late night guard. His departure means there’s nothing but newcomers left, and that’s a major realization that many are going to have to come to terms with in the months and years ahead.
The “war” between the giants of Leno and Letterman may have ended when Leno bid his (second) farewell in 2014 – thus making Letterman the ultimate victor in a rivalry that began in 1992 when Dave was passed over as host of The Tonight Show (despite hosting the original incarnation of Late Night before Conan O’Brien took it over).
However, the generation of giants still existed for as long as Letterman was on screen. With him gone, we are now going to be living in a world devoid of giants. The late-night audience is too far gone and fractured at this point thanks to the invention of time-shifting for anyone to truly be the 18-49 king anymore.
None of the current late-night generation - Kimmel, Fallon, Meyers, O’Brien, Wilmore, Noah, Bee, Corden and soon Colbert - compete with each other, as much as they try to create content that can hit big on the web the day after it airs. So, in that sense, there are no major players anymore; there are just players.
The departure of Letterman means a dramatic shift in the way networks think about late-night television is going to start taking hold. On the plus side, though, that's probably going to lead to some of the most interesting content seen in variety programming since the days of Johnny Carson.
Late Show with David Letterman airs tonight at 11:35pm on CBS.