Who's likeliest to fill those big shoes?
Yesterday, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills let loose the news that David Letterman will finally retire as host of CBS’ The Late Show after an iconic 22-year run. Though, unlike Jay Leno’s February exit on The Tonight Show, there isn’t exactly a definite replacement in line. Some might argue for The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson, who’s followed Letterman since 2005, but odds are that the No. 1 network across America would rather gamble with a more blockbuster name.
Naturally, the blogosphere has been exploding with suggestions — but there are a lot of contenders. So, in homage to Dave’s classic bit, here are TIME’s Top 10 Late Show replacements.
10. Ellen DeGeneres
For over 10 years, she’s hosted her own titular daytime talk show to much fanfare — specifically 36 Daytime Emmy Awards. What’s more, her recent stint hosting this year’s Oscars earned her glowing reviews from both fans and critics, and odds are she’ll be invited back next year. Still, she’s never cracked the late night thing — save her ABC program back in the ’90s — so it could be a gamble. Nevertheless, she’s proven reliable behind the mic, and it’d be a fresh start for the Late Show franchise.
9. Jimmy Kimmel
Yes, he has a show already. No, it’s not likely. But you have to remember: Kimmel is a scholar of Letterman, having worshipped him for years, so if Worldwide Pants and/or CBS came calling, don’t think for a second he wouldn’t sleep on it for a night or two or three. He’d be following the footsteps of his idol, after all. Then again, he has a strong brand over at ABC. Bottom line: never say never. Reality check: don’t bet on it, either.
8. Martin Short
At 64, Short isn’t far off from Letterman’s age, which makes this choice a little questionable. However, he’s always been a spry comic, and he’s also maintained a rare relevance with a number of generations, which is key for the odd demos of The Late Show. Also, you won’t find a better resume: SCTV, Saturday Night Live, and Primetime Glick. Wait, what about his three failed attempts at a talk show in the ’90s, you say? Hmm, thought you’d miss those. Yeah, that might be a cause for concern, alright.
7. Sarah Silverman
Her crude humor might have a hard time sticking on network television, but a name’s a name, and it’s doubtful many Americans could plead ignorance on Sarah Silverman. Since the ’90s, she’s ascended to the upper echelon of comedy gold, what with countless specials, films, and television series. As the former girlfriend of Mr. Kimmel, she’s also hyper-aware of the late night scene, not to mention she also starred in The Larry Sanders Show. Speaking of which, maybe Gary’s avail — nevermind.
6. Neil Patrick Harris
Now that How I Met Your Mother has come to its (polarizing) conclusion, it would appear that ol’ NPH has a clean slate. So, what’s next for the popular Tony Awards host? How about The Late Show? As Vulture points out, his former bosses on HIMYM — creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays — were former writers for Letterman, so they could already be in talks. If any young star can do it, it’s certainly this guy. He can sing, he has an Encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, and he’s savvy with crafting viral Internet videos — sort of a must for any late night gig now. Besides, we didn’t name him one of the 100 most influential people for nothing.
5. Jon Stewart
“Perfect. You’ve got the job,” is what any CBS executive would say to Jon Stewart. The problem? He’s the winner of 18 Primetime Emmy Awards and the current host of one of the most popular late night shows of the last 20 years, The Daily Show. He’s a god to Comedy Central and they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep him. But maybe, just maybe, he’s itching for a little closure and to move on. Remember when he took that three-month hiatus last year? Sure, it was for a directing gig, but hey — some new scenery like the Ed Sullivan Theater and institutional prestige might sound enticing, too.
4. Tina Fey
Few writers in comedy have the chops that Tina Fey does. Even fewer writers have the chutzpah, charisma and comedic wit that Fey displays, either. Let’s just say that she would, without a doubt, be a step up in every field from Letterman, save his trademark deadpan humor. To date, she’s nabbed eight Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Writers Guild of America Awards, and her work on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live speaks for itself — especially her time as Weekend Update co-host to current Tonight Show leader Jimmy Fallon. Hmm — could this be the 21st century rivalry needed to follow Dave and Jay? Probably not if Lorne Michaels has any say.
3. Chris Rock
Credentials: Saturday Night Live, The Chris Rock Show, and too many mainstream blockbusters to name. More recently, Chris Rock has kept relatively quiet, appearing in the occasional indie film and voicing Madagascar characters. But you’d expect him to be jonesing to get back out there and do what he does best: bite. What better way to do that than every night in front of America?
2. Jerry Seinfeld
What’s the deal with all this late-night shuffling? Could you imagine: NBC’s trademark brand shifts over to CBS and goes head to head with Jimmy Fallon. (Personally, as a longtime fan of J-Fal, I’d be destroyed, but c’est le vie.) That’s certainly a win that would make William S. Paley smile up in the skies. Bur how likely is it? Although it happened in the last season of Louis C.K., it’s a stretch that Seinfeld’s ever going to give up his cozy lifestyle of rare cars and coffee to sling it night in and night out in New York. Again, don’t think he won’t get a call. But whether he finally says, “That’s it! That’s enough! I’ll do it already,” is up for the comedy gods to decide. (Or, you know, Jerry.)
1. Conan O’Brien
Everyone loves a strong redemption story, right? What better chapter to Conan O’Brien’s complicated career would it be to truly follow in Letterman’s footsteps? As a longtime friend of the forthcoming retiree, the seat at The Late Show was likely the first thing out of everyone’s lips when Leno came back a-knockin’ in early 2010. Of course, the second late night war ended with O’Brien signing with TBS — and the rest is history.
Or is it? Last year, Ted Turner’s network renewed him until November 2015, which would bring his current Conan series to a solid five-year run. Here’s the thing: Would he really re-sign and keep Conaco in Los Angeles? Or, would he finally make his return to the East coast? There’s no answer to either question, but instead an even bigger question: Will he get the call at all?