The news is out. David Letterman is leaving his Late Show post sometime in 2015. While we still have at least a year remaining in the Letterman era, the speculation is already running rampant about who could replace the man who had—and continues to have—a giant influence on comedy and who revitalized CBS's late-night television lineup more than 20 years ago. Being the good internet citizens that we are, we've compiled a full rundown of some of the more notable names being bandied about, as well as some of the less notable ones, and put together the odds on who will actually end up behind the Late Show desk.
Jon Stewart (Current gig: Host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central)
I saw a bunch of people tweeting things along the lines of, "If Stewart wants the job, he has it." And Late Show with Jon Stewart isn't too difficult to imagine; Stewart is one of the most famous "real" candidates on the board, and probably the one with the most credibility/acclaim. His temporary hiatus from The Daily Show this past summer went off without a hitch, so it's not as if he'd have too much guilt about ditching the show he transformed into a pop culture institution. While the "too political" label might ruffle some feathers at the network affiliate level, Stewart's been working in Hollywood for a long time and could easily promise to tone it down for a broader audience. His Daily Show contract ends in mid-2015, right around the time that Letterman is likely to depart.
Stephen Colbert (Current gig: Host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central)
Nearly everything I just said about Jon Stewart applies to his Comedy Central running mate Stephen Colbert. The big question with Colbert is whether he would stay in character on Late Show, and I'd guess the answer would be "no," which perhaps removes some of the "too political" fears but also makes Colbert's potential performance more of an enigma. Not that he can't do the job just being Stephen Colbert instead of "Stephen Colbert," but does CBS want to take that risk? His contract ends near the end of this year, which perhaps removes any issues with buyouts. Maybe that makes him more likely to get the job?
Craig Ferguson (Current gig: Host of The Late Late Show on CBS)
The charming Scot currently follows Letterman in CBS's late-night lineup and that immediately puts him in the conversation as a possible replacement. Also working in CraigyFerg's favor? He's doing the best and most consistent work of any the hosts who are currently doing a "traditional" show (a group that includes Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, and Seth Meyers). Unfortunately, you're probably going to hear quite a bit about how Ferguson is "too weird" for the 11:30pm audience, especially on CBS. The situation isn't that different from when Conan took over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show; CBS would never handle such a scenario as poorly as NBC did, but I'm not sure it would even want to take the risk with Craig. Still, I have to bet that the Eyeball will take a good, long look at him.
Ellen DeGeneres (Current gig: Host of The Ellen Show)
If we're lucky, multiple women will be discussed for this job. There are enough white dudes at the table. And who better to break through that proverbial glass ceiling than Ellen DeGeneres? She's extremely likable, famous, experienced, and funny in a way that would seemingly easily translate to the late-night sphere. The big downside is that her daytime contract runs for some time—until 2017, to be exact. She could do both shows, but I'm not sure she'd want to. Then it becomes a buyout question.
Jimmy Kimmel (Current gig: Host of Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC)
Kimmel is one of the more fascinating options on the list, as he's the centerpiece of ABC's late-night operation and successfully made the transition to the 11:30pm slot last fall. You'd expect that such a move signals ABC's longterm commitment to Kimmel, and I'm sure that if you asked ABC executives, they would say just as much. Nevertheless, ABC has also flirted with Jay Leno a few times over the years, and Kimmel has several relationships with people in Hollywood that could make him a really appealing candidate to CBS. Would CBS hire him and move the Late Show out to Burbank? Kimmel's JKL contract isn't up until late 2015, so he'd likely have to be bought out.
Jay Leno (Current gig: Performing at your uncle's favorite casino this Saturday)
Jay Leno's late-night TV career will outlive you, it will outlive me, and it will probably outlive late-night TV. He'll be telling OJ Simpson jokes on the eve of the apocalypse. Would it be super weird for CBS to hire Leno to replace Letterman? Absolutely. Would Dave spend his last weeks making fun of that decision? We can only hope. Can we rule either of those things out? No way. Leno, for all his faults, is a reliable, professional performer. If CBS can't pry Stewart or Colbert away from Comedy Central and doesn't like Ferguson for the spot, Leno could slink in.
Ryan Seacrest (Current gigs: Host of American Idol, plus 1,200 other things)
I guess we should never underestimate Seacrest's ability to land every hosting job there is, right? He's not especially funny, but could steer the ship with a lot of different voices around him. There are probably too many existing contracts to mess with, though.
Chelsea Handler (Current gig: Host of Chelsea Lately on E!)
That current gig needs an asterisk because if multiple reports are to be believed, Chelsea Handler is on her way out at E!. Her contract with the channel is up at the end of this year, and she seems ready to move on from Lately. There's no doubt that the upper level of late-night TV could use an injection of estrogen, and Handler is a recognizable name who could bring some different viewers to CBS. But would her style really fit in with CBS's generally broad content? More to the point, can you imagine Jim Nantz reading promos for The Late Show with Chelsea Handler during a Broncos-Patriots game on Sunday night? Probably not.
Drew Carey (Current gig: Host of The Price Is Right on CBS)
Shout-out to friend and fellow TV.com staffer Noel Kirkpatrick for this idea. Drew Carey appears to have a good relationship with CBS executives, people know him and generally like him, and he did a fine job hosting Ferguson's show the other night as part of their April Fool's switcheroo. Carey would be a very safe choice, should CBS want to go that route, but does the network want to move him away from The Price Is Right and create a second job search? Either way, Carey getting the job over his former co-star Ferguson isn't as nutty as it may seem.
Conan O'Brien (Current gig: Host of Conan on TBS)
I've been beating this drum since last fall, and I'll continue to do so. You have to guess that Conan desperately wants a second chance at late-night TV on broadcast. The TBS experiment has gone just fine, but Conan is always going to play second fiddle to the Comedy Central offerings in that regard. Moving to CBS would give Conan the chance to redeem himself, to follow in Letterman's footsteps (a man he surely respects more than Leno), and to take potshots at NBC with a higher profile. The question is whether or not CBS would be interested in him. At this point, Conan is what he is, which is just weird enough to make a few older, curmudgeonly executives or affiliate managers uncomfortable. But he's probably an easier sell than Ferguson, he has major name recognition, and he would come in with something to prove (hopefully). His contract at TBS ends in November 2015. I'm rooting for this to happen.
Chris Hardwick (Current gigs: Nerdist mastermind, host of @midnight on Comedy Central and Talking Dead on AMC)
Like with Seacrest, we can never underestimate Chris Hardwick's ability to get hosting jobs. Hardwick would certainly provide CBS with a host who could match Fallon's positivity levels and perhaps even produce comparable viral content. Nevertheless, this seems like a gig that's just a little beyond Hardwick's pay grade, right?
Joel McHale (Current gigs: Community star, host of The Soup on E!)
Community could complete its sixth season in the spring 2015, just when Letterman signs off. There's next to no way the show goes past that—well, other than the movie—leaving McHale with a little more free time. He signed a two-year extension for The Soup in 2012, meaning that contract is about to expire again soon. It'd be tough to stomach a longtime NBC-Comcast employee promoting his jump to a CBS late-night gig as Community reached the end, but wouldn't you want to at least see McHale do a little time behind a desk? He'd certainly help CBS skew younger and compete with Fallon and Kimmel.
Aisha Tyler (Current gigs: Archer star, host of Whose Line Is It Anyway? on The CW, co-host of The Talk on CBS)
Aisha Tyler is another extremely qualified candidate who's hosted all kinds of stuff over the years. Heck, she's currently hosting two different programs that are owned or affiliated with CBS in some form: Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Talk. I also think she'd do a better job (and be less off-putting) than Handler, if we're comparing possible female candidates. But she might be the least famous person on this list, which doesn't bode well.
Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Poehler, Louis C.K., or any other famous person you think is cool
Guys, come on. Although it might be great to watch a version of Late Show with C.K. or Amy P. as the host, they're so busy doing other, better things that we shouldn't want them to waste their time on late-night TV.
ODDS: 500:1 and beyond