Last week Dave Letterman announced he would be leaving CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015 on an unspecified date. That means there will be total turnover of the 11:35 time period on ABC, NBC, and CBS with new hosts and programs. The hosts of the late night line-up are now far younger with Jimmy Fallon, 39, Jimmy Kimmel, 46, and Letterman’s replacement TBD in the wings. (Are there other Jimmy options? See below)
Letterman’s run has been a long one—since 1992 on CBS, preceded by 11 years on NBC as host of Late Night. And Dave’s fans also remember his earlier, short (4-month) stint on daytime TV on NBC before he moved to late night.
Letterman’s announcement followed the recent departure of Jay Leno from NBC, but has a different feel to it. Leno’s departure always felt a bit forced while Letterman’s departure feels far more Dave orchestrated. Letterman will turn 67 shortly, and while 3 years older than the departed Leno, his style and appeal made him appear far younger. NBC’s legendary selection of Leno over Letterman as The Tonight Show host back in 1992 set up a long-time rivalry, one which Leno achieved a larger overall audience and strong Central U.S. appeal, but Dave attracted a younger, coastal audience. But the world has changed so dramatically since 1992 that the Leno-Letterman late night wars now seems so yesterday.
At that time, replacing TV legend Johnny Carson who at one time had 15 Million nightly viewers, was the plum job. Fast forward to today and Jimmy Fallon is celebrated for 4+Million viewers and Dave’s audience has now eroded to 2.8 Million viewers. While Fallon is still “news”, it appears he is the current late night golden boy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, Letterman’s departure could in some way be a little self-recognition that his star is now dimming.
Who will replace Letterman? Who knows? Craig Ferguson hosts the 12:35 program but he’s not a lock to move up to 11:35. Others chatted up are Steve Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris. There may be other wild-cards in the wings as well.
Since late night now seems to be the territory for Jimmys, here are some famous Jimmy options, though all are perhaps a little long in the tooth:
And from the great beyond perhaps Jimmy Hoffa and the Great Schnazolla, Jimmy Durante, would have made fine hosts.
However, we strongly suspect that Letterman’s replacement will not come from the Jimmy ranks. Whoever it is will be competing in a fragmented daypart, vying for the coveted younger (18-49) demo. But we still have several months to enjoy Letterman. Enjoy him while you can.
Epilogue: CBS announced Th April 10 that Stephen (“don’t call me Jimmy”) Colbert will replace Dave. Good choice.