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The news officially broke yesterday that David Letterman will retire at the end of 2015, ending his indelible run in late-night TV. First reactions were mixed, and second reactions were, “Who’s going to replace him?” Naturally, we asked that question, too. We’re only human. So, if you were the God of late-night programming, who would you hire to replace David Letterman? (Okay, just to take his time slot. No one will ever replace David Letterman.)
While there are a ton of people I’d like to see more often—Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Zach Galifianakis, and so on—I think I have to go with who I think could lead a good conversation. I’m going to pick an old Dave Letterman favorite: Amy Sedaris. I don’t in any way think this’ll happen, but oh, if it did. Sedaris is funny, charming, can talk to damn near anyone, and absolutely gets the vibe of the Late Show. She’s probably also too weird to ever draw a mass audience, but she’d have my heart, and that’s what this question is really about, right?
I think Pete Holmes has proven himself on his post-Conan talk show, even though another white male comedian is the least exciting choice to fill Dave’s job. Jumping from a half-hour show after Conan on basic cable to Letterman’s position would be a huge leap, but he’s done some prep work. He’s switched up the format a bit on his show, too, which I think the late-night world needs. I’m sure he’s tied up in contracts with Conaco, but I think he deserves a shot.
Bring me the criminally underemployed Maya Rudolph, whose stint hosting Saturday Night Live is my favorite episode the show has ever done. Late-night television is populated by witty and endearing white dudes—why not shake that up a little? Rudolph is a gifted comedian who can perform Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, and John Krasinksi’s wife without breaking a sweat, but she’s worked with ensembles so long that she can hang back and not chew the scenery. She also sings, dances, and does slapstick. I feel like Rudolph, hosting a show, would channel the personalities of her many impressions I named above—and hopefully would also lovingly mock Oprah on a regular basis. Or Ellen DeGeneres, as you can see below.
Though the three-episode arc on Louie already proved this reality improbable, it’s hard to shake the notion that a nightly dose of Louis C.K. would be anything other than must-watch television. The flashes of him running test shows on Louie suggested that even as a buttoned-up host he still contained his disheveled charm, and with his ability to crank out a new stand-up special or season of his show on a yearly basis it’s hard to fathom him running low on inspiration. It’s an outside shot, sure, but it would make for one of network TV's most daring programs, even if CBS would rather default to Jerry Seinfeld.
Exactly one year ago today, we answered a similar question, but for a different subject: “Who should replace Jimmy Fallon?” (Marah must have a direct line to the National Broadcasting Company, because they went with her pick.) What’d we learn in the interim? For one, April is apparently the time of year that late-night contract negotiations take place. Less excitingly: We learned it’s going to be a while until the late-night status quo is shaken up to the point where the person delivering the Late Night monologue is of a different race than or possesses different genitalia from David Letterman. So, as much as it sucks to go in this direction, it feels most realistic for me to wish for The Late Show With Paul F. Tompkins. The stand-up and Mr. Show vet is of the generation that witnessed Letterman dissecting the late-night format firsthand, so I feel like he’d bring the correct sense of absurdism to the gig. He’s also a keen host steeped in classic showmanship, with a stage presence that’s big and theatrical (as evidenced by his life among the puppets of Fusion’s No, You Shut Up) but not in a sense that impedes a bright, intimate conversation (the kind conducted on his web series, Speakeasy). There will come a time when Sharon Needles can show up on your TV every weeknight at 11:35 to spook the straights. Until then, I’ll settle for a guy who might show up to host Late Night in the guise of Werner Herzog.
I don’t watch any late-night talk shows regularly, because I’m asleep—and who DVRs that stuff?—and because I usually find them really dull. (Plus, anytime something interesting or notable happens, it’s all over the web the next day.) But I love Eric Andre’s bizarro take on the format, which is 15 minutes long, includes lots of celebrity impersonators as guests (plus real celebrities, making it even more interesting), and is basically just anarchy. He’d probably have to tone things down a little bit for a major network, but I would take a mildly diluted Eric Andre (with sidekick Hannibal Buress, of course) over just about anything else.
With David Letterman leaving, the late-night landscape is losing his crucial, curmudgeonly tone, right at a time when it’s increasingly become overrun with enthusiastic glad-handers. So it’s high time we right a wrong that was first committed more than a decade ago, and give 1993-era Bobcat Goldthwait the show he once sought to take over from Larry Sanders. The slightly fictionalized Goldthwait had lots of fresh ideas that would provide a much-needed spoiler to the usual chat show niceties, including doing his “interviews” via pat responses played through a tape recorder, forcing every guest to participate in “No Pants Wednesday,” and, most exciting of all, gently guiding guests away from their boring, self-promoting anecdotes by hitting them in the face with a Nerf bat. If we can no longer have Letterman’s charming crankiness poking holes in the slick artifice of celebrity shilling, vote 1993 Bobcat Goldthwait for the bat to the face talk shows so desperately need.
Laura M. Browning
Late-night TV is filled with straight white dudes. Some very smart and funny straight white dudes, but c’mon, TV networks, your audience is bigger than that. Tina Fey wouldn’t be a play for a so-called niche market, though—she’s proven, from SNL to 30 Rock to co-hosting the Golden Globes, that smart, liberal feminists can be funny, too. Plus, when she (or her employees) screw up, nobody handles it better.