While entertainment industry insiders had been expecting David Letterman to step down from his late night post ever since he signed a deal for just two years in 2013, those expectations were unconfirmed until his April 3 show, when he officially announced his impending resignation.
Letterman has been at his Late Night post at CBS Corporation (CBS) for 21 years following 10 years spent following the venerable Tonight Show at NBC for a decade. His post is one of the most coveted in all of late night television, and whoever gets the job will have one of the few things that exists in entertainment: a steady, lucrative, and above-all safe job.
Within minutes of the announcement, Hollywood muckraker Nikki Finke had already tweeted out her theory as to who will take the reins of the $20 million a year job, one of the biggest in the entire $20 billion a year network television industry. But it’s far from a foregone conclusion with several viable candidates available.
It would seem that Colbert wouldn’t enter the conversation considering he already has a wildly popular show at Comedy Central, but that’s exactly who Finke pegged as the frontrunner to take Letterman’s spot. Colbert’s unquestionable appeal is his massive popularity in the “demo,” viewers between 18 and 49 that are most coveted by advertisers.
Whether he would retain his trademark conservative blowhard persona or go as just regular ol’ Steven is unclear, let alone if Colbert would have any interest in leaving his hit Comedy Central show, but he’s certainly an intriguing choice.
The 39-year-old has already announced she wants nothing more to do with her E!-based flagship property Chelsea Lately, and is reportedly courting offers from a number of networks. As late night continues to suffer from a dearth of female-hosted shows, Chandler would be a logical choice to help close the gender gap a bit.
Of course, Handler is not the only female comedian in the world. An interesting idea being floated around is Amy Sedaris, a favored guest of Letterman’s and Stephen Colbert’s former comedy partner. Sedaris is offbeat and hilarious and has already established herself in her own right, first as the star of cult classic Strangers with Candy and then with a series of popular DIY craft books.
While Sedaris (sister of author David Sedaris) might be an obscure choice, she’s certainly not more out there than who CBS chose last time they had to make a late night host pick: Scottish comic Craig Ferguson.
Speaking of… If late night television were a monarchy the clear choice (short a bloody coup) would be Ferguson, who has hosted the Late Late Show that follows Letterman since 2005. Ferguson’s dry, sardonic sense of humor closely aligns with Letterman’s, further bolstering his case. Letterman reportedly made the final decision to put Ferguson in the slot, and it’s not crazy to imagine him picking Ferguson a second time.
However, the transition of power is almost never so clean, as Letterman knows all too well. Letterman first came to CBS after losing the Tonight Show job to Jay Leno, even though Tonight Show host Johnny Carson had privately and publically lobbied hard for Letterman.
A memorable storyline in comedian Louis CK’s eponymous show concerned Louis being picked out of relative obscurity to possibly take over Letterman’s job. Of course, that was a fictional universe where Louis wasn’t a mega-famous comedian with his own show. But the idea of Louis being a charming, successful replacement didn’t sound too terribly out there either.
The question isn’t really if Louis could do the job and pull ratings, but if he wants it. Considering the man already has a fantastically well-received show (albeit on cable) and lucrative stand-up career, that might seem unlikely. However, it would be fantastic.