Word leaked mid-afternoon Thursday that David Letterman had announced his retirement at the taping of that night’s Late Show. The video surfaced later at night, before it was broadcast on CBS.
Letterman told a long story about watching birds with his son, before sharing the news that he had contacted CBS head Les Moonves just before the show to announce his intention to make the announcement. He also said that the retirement would take place “sometime” in 2015. Afterward, he received a standing ovation:
Speculation was immediately rampant, of course, about Letterman’s possible replacement. Various names have been floated in the first 12 hours- Jon Stewart! Stephen Colbert! Louis CK! Ellen DeGeneres! Tina Fey! Patton Oswalt! Drew Carey! Even Neil Patrick Harris has emerged as a candidate with a surprising amount of traction.
I have no idea who CBS will choose, or who I even want them to choose. But it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind: Agreeing to host an 11:30 talk show means committing to doing that, and (with the exception of the occasional awards show) ONLY that, for a period of time that could extend as long as 15-20 years. That means anyone who does so will be dropping almost everything else they’re currently working on, and instead becoming a network talk show host.
That hasn’t been a problem lately. Jimmy Fallon went from SNL star to failed movie star to 12:30 host to 11:30 host. Jimmy Kimmel went from The Man Show and the Fox football pre game show to midnight on ABC to 11:35. Neither of them was doing something awesome before that they would have thought twice about giving up to take over a network talk show.
For most of the hopefuls mentioned above, taking over the show would not only represent less than the greatest use of their talents, but it wouldn’t even mark an improvement on what they’re currently doing.
As a Louis CK fan, if I had to choose between a new stand-up special and 12 episodes of Louie a year, and a network talk show every night, I’m going with the former, no question. Louie, which lets the comedian do everything he’s great at and control it himself, is the best show Louis C.K. could possibly produce, and I’d much rather he continue to do that than make it his job to interview Taylor Swift.
Similarly, Jon Stewart’s talents are considerably better suited to the Daily Show than to an apolitical CBS talk show.
Ellen already has the #1 daytime talk show and is doing great with that. Neil Patrick Harris does many, many things outstandingly- movie and TV acting, hosting awards shows, and starring in Broadway shows, and I’d prefer he continue doing them than host a talk show, which he’s never done before. Tina Fey stars in a couple of movies a year and produces TV shows. Patton Oswalt in an ideal world, would be given a Louie-style show, not a Letterman-style one.
Drew Carey does make a certain amount of sense, though. And this argument from Tim Goodman last year, that Letterman’s ideal successor should be Colbert, albeit the REAL Colbert, without the political satire schtick- was much more persuasive than you’d think. Although, contrary to the belief of some, there’s nothing at all wrong with what Colbert’s doing now.
Or CBS could just stick with Craig Ferguson. Or, dare I suggest, give Conan another shot?