How Letterman's Exit Could Spawn Conan vs. Jay Part 2

How Letterman's Exit Could Spawn Conan vs. Jay Part 2

NBC's handling of the last two “Tonight Show” transitions could come back to bite it — hard

David Letterman is retiring at a time when both Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will be available to replace him.

That's potentially very bad news for NBC, which let both former “Tonight Show” hosts go. And it raises the messy possibility of Leno and O'Brien yet again fighting it out for a late-night show — except this time on CBS.

Also read: Watch David Letterman Announce His ‘Late Show’ Retirement (Video)

O'Brien is in the fourth year of a five-year contract with TBS, the home of his new show, “Conan.” NBC entertainment chairman chief Bob Greenblatt has said he wants to stay in business with Leno, but his replacement by Jimmy Fallon would seem to leave him free to go elsewhere.

Leno would seem an especially bright prospect for CBS because he retired from “Tonight” on top. And CBS, with the oldest viewers in broadcast TV, may not be as fixated on youth as NBC was when it replaced Leno with Fallon.

Also read: David Letterman Retiring: 11 Most Memorable Career Moments (Video)

Craig Ferguson is also an obvious candidate to replace Letterman, after following his show on CBS for years.

Then there's Chelsea Handler, who TheWrap just reported plans to leave E! when her contract expires. She could be the first woman since Joan Rivers to host a late-night show on a broadcast network. And she, too, would be a part of the NBC family gone away: NBCUniversal owns E!.

And no sooner did this story post than a reader tweeted #DraftEllen. The daytime star and two-time Oscar host would be another strong contender, if she opted to jump to late night.

Also read: Bill Murray Invaded ‘Letterman’ to Tell Jokes, Take a Selfie With Lady Gaga (Video)

CBS might also try to lure one of Comedy Central's hosts. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert both perform well at 11 and 11:30 p.m., respectively. And Chris Hardwick is rising fast with his show, “@Midnight.”

Two years ago, FX's “Louie” devoted a three-part episode to imagining what would happen if Letterman ever decided to retire. Louis CK, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld competed for the gig in a bizarre contest that came complete with David Lynch cameos.

NBC could be in for a similarly Lynchian nightmare if O'Brien and Leno — two talents it let go — come back to joust nightly with Fallon.

On “Louie,” CK discovered that the three-way bakeoff between him, Rock and Seinfeld was just a way for CBS to negotiate a better deal with Letterman. In real life, Letterman's retirement will likely be good news for any potential replacements.

O'Brien could use the prospect of departing for CBS to extract more favorable terms from TBS. And NBC might try to lock in a quick deal with Leno to avoid having to compete with him.

Who knows? Maybe CK was on to something, and we should add Rock and Seinfeld to the list of potential replacements, too. They are also products of NBC, given their success on “Saturday Night Live” and “Seinfeld.” Neither has made any mention of wanting a new talk show — but then again, this is the first time in two decades a plum slot has been open on CBS.

  • Laredo

    Yes, make it Craig Ferguson, he is wonderful…and I cannot even look at Leno with that weird deformed Hapsburg jaw, he gives me the creeps.

  • hpsq20

    Yes, replace with Leno. Craig Ferguson is also an exceptional talent but he really seems to hate hosting and has barely been phoning it in for years now.

  • BrettTheBrat

    NO LENO. I studiously avoided The Tonight Show after that debacle, don't make me do the same thing CBS.

    • lakawak

      Somehow I think NBC came out ahead even without YOU watching. The fact that Leno dominated the ratings for 20 of the 22 years they were head to head shows they made the right decision. IT was always funny when Dave claimed the dominance was because of NBC's strong leading with their prime time…but then when NBC tanked and CBS was on top, they didn't bring that u anymore.

  • TwiggyB

    Craig Ferguson would be a good replacement because Letterman is his boss. Letterman's World Wide Pants owns Ferguson show. So if he gets that spot, it should be Ferguson.

    • lakawak

      A skeleton as a sidekick and someone dressed as a horse will not play well at 11:30.

      • kodo

        You do understand that those things don't have to continue at 11:30 right? He had the skeleton due to low budget – CBS wouldn't give him a live sidekick or a band so he's been resourceful.

  • Geez

    Once again The Wrap rivals CNN in reporting nothing.


    Tall Texan It would be an absolute insult to replace such a great man with Jay Leno-I would never watch a show with him. Dave deserves better. The one who should replace him is already in place and has shown she can do the job. Dave would be thrilled if Ellen D. were to follow him. It is time to give a woman a chance with they have earned it on SNL. Or what about Whoppi, or Tina Faye, or Amy, they all have got the tools to do a great job. Robin Williams. Jim Carrey there plenty from the new group of greats and others yes Craig, but Leno even Conan is old news. He deserves to have someone follow him not of his age, with Leno he will be too old in just a few years. Shame on CBS if they pick Leno-no-no-no-Dave is a one and only God Bless You Dave…………………………

    • lakawak

      Dave should have been replaced over 15 years ago. His CBS show was pure crap compared to his NBC show.

  • John_Skinner

    O'Brien is a complete fail.. I enjoy Craig and his show would probably be better with a huge budget. If Jay wanted to re-enlist… Well, how bad could it be ? But ironic to say the least with him take the show over when he and Dave had such a time back when Johnny took off.

  • Norm Thompson

    What about Jon Stewart? Kinda young still, on top

  • David

    Leno will never, ever replace Letterman, he's the last guy they'd get.

  • Hollywood Insider

    I love Craig Ferguson but I just don't think he'd work at 11:30. I never thought Conan would either. He is not “broad” enough. Of course some would argue the same regarding Letterman, however Letterman is a great interviewer, when he is interested dare I say one of the best Late Night hosts. Leno going to CBS is interesting, but I don't think that shores up a long-term problem. Leno won't want to be doing this for another ten years. Then again, perhaps he'd want to. Who knows. Craig – no. As reports noted, CBS long had John Stewart under option under Worldwide Pants back in the 1990s. I still think John would do well by CBS. Why don't they… get NEIL PATRICK HARRIS. Don't laugh, I think Neil is a talent and most Americans like him. NPH would probably never do it – he has far too many interests to be tied to a nightly television show. Then again, he's proven he can do live television and then some. I think a fresh face is needed. UNLESS C Handler could be persuaded. Girlfriend has said numerous times she doesn't want to work that hard. That gig – requires no life and to work HARD. Good luck Leslie.

  • Newzheimer

    CBS Has already reached out to John Oliver. Ferguson would never work at 11:30, for all the reasons that Conan didn't work at 11:30. Stop trying to shit-stir, Tim. It's inappropriate. Not now, not ever.

  • Odd

    Why was the post about the Mozilla chief who was forced to quit deleted from the site?

  • Me

    Let's face it. The reason why Dave is retiring is that he'll never get that job on The Tonight Show.

  • lakawak

    Is it just that you aren't paying attention to the DISMAL ratings that Conan is getting on TBS? (Or that he got in 2009 on The Tonight Show?) There is NO WAY CBS would want him.

  • Damien W

    Conan would get killed by Fallon and Kimmel. He has already reached his peak in the talk show landscape. Is he even beating George Lopez's old numbers at this point? And anyone who includes Chelsea Handler in the short list has obviously never seen her perform. Her act is cable-only.

    Considering Leno at all in these articles is just click-baiting. This business is insane, but it's not that insane. Although Leno is that insane, and that opaque. But he's just as old as Dave, and CBS has to go for someone younger.

    Stewart and Colbert already have their dream jobs — taking a pure talk show now would be a step down for either of them. Chris Hardwick is a possibility, although I really love @Midnight. Louie CK is being mentioned because he is the current hot name in Hollywood, so if anything is happening, his name gets attached to it. But I don't see him as a good fit either.

    Meanwhile, Drew Carey is having fun doing Price Is Right, which apparently leaves him time to do things like DWTS. He's building up his own power base at the network. His old sitcom buddy Craig Ferguson is happy at 12:30, and if Drew took over 11:30 they would have a blast crossing over into each other's shows. Also, LA would be happy because a Drew Late Show would move there.

    But outside of these constantly-mentioned names, there are dozens of veteran comics & entertainers out there with their own podcasts or Sirius shows, honing their interviewing skills. This race is wide, wide open.

    • Bonk

      Age doesn't matter. Quality matters. Leno won the young demo. That demo is getting less important as advertisers wake up to the fact that the younger demo is no more open to new products as any other age group, but they have no money.

  • azcanadienne

    WTF!?!!?!? How deep up your ass, has your head been for the last 20+ years??? Leno????? Really????? How many iconic shows do you want that pandering moron to destroy? Oh sure, he “won” the ratings war – but let's face it, the average viewer barely has delusions of adequacy! Letterman demands at least a couple of functioning brain cells, in order to watch and enjoy his show – and Leno's crowd couldn't make the minimum requirements. Besides, I'm pretty sure Letterman would prefer to do the show from his grave, than EVER hand the reins over to that unfunny, unoriginal, thieving, suck-up hack! It's time for the next generation to prove their mettle – and let's face it, they all cite Letterman as their inspiration. I have yet to hear even one of those guys say “Growing up, I always wanted to be like Leno”

    • Cyclops

      I was going to comment about this; but I couldn't have said it better. Given their antagonistic and tumultuous history, I am certain that Letterman would consider it a grievous personal insult to be replaced by L:eno.

  • XPatriate

    I thought I read that Leno's not interested in returning to late nights. I can't see Conan succeeding vs. the “Jimmys”…unless he retains some of Letterman's writers. Conan's current team is just awful. As for Fey & Poehler…I think Tina Fey would be a nice option, but I'm not sure she'd go head-to-head vs. Lorne Michaels. I think she an Poehler both are loyal.

    I'd watch Jon Stewart in that time slot. I think his wry wit suits the “Late Show”. For Colbert to host, I suspect he'd have to break character. Does anyone want to see that?

    Count me among those who thought Drew Carey's appearance on “The Late Late Show” might have served as an audition for future host duties. He wasn't half-bad. I actually thought he was sincere and thoughtful. And I liked how he addressed the audience during interviews, including us in the conversation. I think Craig Ferguson is great. And I enjoy that he doesn't follow notes when interviewing, but I believe he's better suited for 12:30. His style isn't broad enough for the boss's chair.

    Reading some of the posts below, I think Louie C.K. could be a possibility, and I think Chris Rock would be entertaining. One name I never thought of, mentioned by @Damien W is Chris Hardwick. He's early 40s…has a bit of a following…and he's “new media” savvy. While I thought he struggled a little bit w/ “Nerdist” on BBCA, I like his podcast. What's the line? I'll put a couple of bucks on him.

  • Cyclops

    Go Chelsea! It would be great to have a witty, provocative, sardonic host in a time period full of balndness.

  • Joe

    Conan is the best on TV

  • Michael

    Conan is a good fit to replace Letterman, I think he is funny. For some reason people think he is done because of what happened with TTS, but his show on TBS is as good as anything on late night on network tv. Letterman should have a say in his successor and Conan is the closest to his style of humor. Conan needs new writers or the writers for Letterman badly and if he is to stubborn to change some things than CBS should pick someone else to succeed Dave. So if I was CBS I'd give Conan a shot if he is willing to reinvent himself a bit for that time slot.

  • Jim Davis

    CBS would be very wise to hire Jay Leno; and gain his large, loyal, and displaced audience!

  • Tony Figueroa

    Who ever it is, the show should move to Los Angeles

  • name

    I say the war will be between Conan, Jon Stewart and Chelsea Handler