Pop-Ed: Who Will Replace Letterman?

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It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. David Letterman is retiring from late night television after 33 years. While he rose to popularity on Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, he really became a mainstay on CBS’s Late Show over the past 21 years. People have contemplated his retirement for a while but it reached a feverpitch last year when NBC announced Jay Leno was being replaced by Jimmy Fallon. With his 67th birthday on the immediate horizon, Letterman is easily the oldest late night show host currently on television. If he didn’t retire, CBS was bound to replace him anyway to keep up with the much younger competitors.

This presents the very difficult question of who will replace a TV icon. These are some massive shoes to fill. To make sure Late Night continues bigger and better than ever, CBS will want someone who is both experienced at hosting duties and is able to grab the very coveted young adult demographic. This is absolutely crucial because whoever takes this show will be competing directly with Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert, three absolute, Emmy nominated (and winning for Colbert) powerhouses. Now I don’t know who CBS has in mind but I’m here to present five candidates who could very well fit this tough standard, along with some reasons why CBS might turn them down.

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Craig Ferguson

Seems like a no-brainer right? Craig Ferguson has followed Letterman since 2005 with The Late Late Show. He fits the experience requirement to an absolute tee. Not an Emmy darling like his competitors, Ferguson’s show has occasionally bested other similarly scheduled programs in the ratings. While he hasn’t been able to rise above in recent years, the numbers are by no means terrible. They don’t exactly light the world on fire though, which brings to mind his biggest drawback: current popularity. I honestly can’t remember the last time Ferguson did something that became a big Internet sensation. It feels like Jon Stewart, Colbert, Fallon, and Kimmel do something weekly that gets posted all over the internet. Unfortunately Ferguson doesn’t get the same love. The last notable thing I heard him do was on April 1st when he and Drew Carey switched shows for the day. Sure that was only last Tuesday but I seriously can’t remember anything before that. Let’s be honest, The Price is Right demographic isn’t exactly the one CBS is hoping to attract at night. It’s undeniable that Ferguson can handle Late Show duties, but it’s also questionable if the desired people will be interested.

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Stephen Colbert

Colbert’s name is being thrown around fairly frequently in light of Letterman’s announcement. Apparently CBS has pegged him as a front-runner, and for good reasons obviously. Colbert is easily one of the funniest people on television. He successfully took The Colbert Report out of the massive shadow of The Daily Show and made it one of the premier late night programs. He even won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series last year, ending Jon Stewart’s ten year winning streak. How could CBS not want him? But while Colbert’s contract is up at the end of 2014, I’d be surprised if Comedy Central was willing to let him go. The 11-midnight slot has been a huge goldmine with Stewart and Colbert holding that hour down for nine straight years. The Colbert Report can’t live without Colbert either, meaning there would be a MASSIVE void at 11:30 that might never get filled. Common sense tells me Comedy Central will fight tooth and nail to keep Colbert right where he is.

Neil Patrick Harris

That’s right, I’m playing the NPH card. Admit it! You love this idea too! He’s a natural born entertainer who can sing, dance, and has hosted his fair share of award shows. Plus he’s hilarious! Seeing as How I Met Your Mother recently wrapped up an incredible nine year run, the timing really couldn’t be better. NPH would bring with him a powerful sense of humor that would turn CBS into the hottest thing around. It would also be an historical moment as NPH would be the first openly gay network television host. Sexual orientation should never, ever be the deciding factor for any form of employment or just life in general except for who you love, but there is nothing wrong with being on the right side of history. The big thing working against NPH though is he has never hosted a talk show. Yes he has experience being a host, but award shows and talk shows are different beasts. Still, I think we can all agree that the power of NPH will be enough to make any show successful.

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Tina Fey

The late night TV landscape is a massive sausage party. Chelsea Handler has held her own on E! for eight years, but her expected departure next year means a void is opening. Women are sadly underrepresented and there should be more with their own shows. A step in the right direction would be widely loved comedienne Tina Fey. She’s basically the female version of NPH in terms of qualifications. Absolute queen of entertainment, whether on a sitcom, variety show, or hosting, but has never had her own talk show (Weekend Update doesn’t exactly count). She’s also busy creating shows for NBC and possibly other networks. It honestly may come down to her not even having enough time to lead a talk show five nights a week, which really is a shame. More Fey is never a bad thing.

Chelsea Handler

Unlike the previous names I already mentioned, Handler basically has everything CBS could want. She has talk show experience, has a dedicated following, and is reportedly not renewing her contract next year at E!. The fact that she’s a woman, thus preventing any “ugh another male?!” controversy for CBS, is simply icing on the cake. She would be the only woman on a major network with a talk show afterall. But is CBS really ready for Handler? Her humor is incredibly raunchy. She has at times proven to be a bit too much for people. It also doesn’t help that she has no issues speaking her mind, including talking about how much she dislikes her own network. I highly doubt she’ll want to tone herself down for this new gig too. Handler is just too hot for the family friendly CBS to contain.

It’ll be a while before CBS actually comes to a decision, especially since Letterman didn’t officially announce a date. Definitely expect some wild speculation from this moment onward. Who can possibly know what CBS is thinking either. Until the big announcement comes, feel free to comment about who you think should take over. My personal choice? It’s a tie between Neil Patrick Harris and Tina Fey. Bring some new blood in!

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