Late night then and now as Dave prepares to take off

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David Letterman - updated 10/19
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Late night then and now as Dave prepares to take off
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Julia Roberts catches up with Dave on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
President Barack Obama sits with David Letterman on the set of the "Late Show With David Letterman" at the Ed Sullivan Theater, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: David Letterman appears outside the 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 26: David Letterman attends 'A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey' at Ball State University on November 26, 2012 in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)
Talk show host David Letterman, right, interviews Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley on the "Late Night with David Letterman" show in New York, June 29, 1988. This is Letterman's second show since he returned to television despite the continuing Writer's Guild strike. (AP Photo/Mario Suriani)
FILE - This Jan. 15, 1993 file photo shows talk-show host David Letterman announces his new contract with CBS television for his new show "The Late Show with David Letterman," in New York. Letterman announced his retirement during a taping on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Although no specific date was announced he told the audience that he will leave his desk sometime in 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
**FILE**Late night talk show host David Letterman makes a surprise appearance at the Primetime Emmy Awards, Sept. 18, 2005, in Los Angeles. Letterman paused on the "Late Show" Monday night, March 27, 2006, to offer condolences to the family of race car driver Paul Dana, who died of injuries suffered in a crash during warmups at the IRL IndyCar Series race near Miami on Sunday. Dana was a driver on a race team partly sponsored by Letterman.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2009 file photo, traffic moves down Broadway, past the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Late Show with David Letterman is taped, in New York. Police responded to a 911 call of a burglary at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway around 7 a.m., Sunday, July 10, 2011. The officers noticed some property damage and have taken one man into custody, but no arrests have yet been made. It was unclear how extensive the damage was. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)
In this photo provided by CBS, the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy as “Late Show” host David Letterman places the Stanley Cup down on his desk, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman" in New York. The Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, and Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO ARCHIVE NORTH AMERICA USE ONLY.
In this photo provided by CBS, U.S. Olympic men's high jump silver medalist Erik Kynard Jr., left, talks with host David Letterman on the set of the ìLate Show with David Letterman,î Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, Heather Wines) MANDATORY CREDIT ARCHIVE OUT NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
In this photo provided by CBS, Masters golf tournament champion Bubba Watson, left, talks to host David Letterman on the set of "Late Show with David Letterman," Tuesday, April 10, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, Jeffrey R. Staab) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO ARCHIVE NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
Late night talk show host David Letterman speaks at the International Rescue Committee Freedom Award Dinner at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on Wednesday Nov. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Reichbaum)
In this photo provided by CBS, former New York Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath, left, talks about his football career with host David Letterman on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo) MANDATORY CREDIT NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
FILE -- In a Jan. 13, 2009 file photo talk show host David Letterman leaves a taping of the "Late Show with David Letterman," in New York. Letterman Monday Dec. 7, 2009 dived right into material on Tiger Woods on the "Late Show," joking he wishes the golfer would stop asking him for advice. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
David Letterman, the host of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, jokes that he no longer needs his name tag since the building carries his name after the dedication of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building on the campus in Muncie, Ind., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. Letter also received a Sagamore of the Wabash from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Letterman is a Ball State University graduate and grew up in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
A "do not walk" sign flashes outside "The Late Show with David Letterman" studio at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York on Wednesday April 26, 2006. CBS Corp. reported lower net first-quarter earnings Wednesday, reflecting the company's split with Viacom Inc. at the beginning of the year. (AP Photo/Shahrzad Elghanayan)
NEW YORK - APRIL 3: Actor Johnny Depp chats with Dave about his new movie 'Transcendence' on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday April 3, 2014 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
Honest cab driver Qurbe Munir Tirmizi appears with David Letterman during the taping of the Late Show with David Letterman Wednesday, July 16, 1997, in New York. Tirmizi, a native of Pakistan, had only been driving a taxi for three weeks when a customer left her life savings of $32,859 in the back seat of his cab on Saturday July 13. Tirmizi promptly turned the money in to authorities and when his customer, Gwendoline Weeks, 71, originally from England, offered Tirmizi a reward he turned it down. (AP Photo/HO, Alan Singer)
Talk show host David Letterman gestures as he speaks to former President Jimmy Carter during the taping of the "Late show with David Letterman" Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1993 in New York. Carter, who dropped in on the show to tell a few stories, was welcomed onstage with a standing ovation. (AP Photo/Alan Singer)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 22, 1985: TV personality David Letterman poses at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 22, 1985 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by TVA/PictureGroup/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 7: David Letterman seen outside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City on October 7, 2014. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
In this photo provided by CBS, Serena Williams talks with host David on the set of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in New York. Williams will compete in the U.S. Open which begins on Aug. 25. (AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo)
In this photo provided by CBS, host David Letterman, right, talks with the U.S. men’s ski slopestyle Olympic medalists on the set of “Late Show with David Letterman,” Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in New York. From left are Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy and Joss Christensen. (AP Photo/CBS, Jeffrey R. Staab) MANDATORY CREDIT NO ARCHIVE, FOR NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY
FILE - This June 29, 2010 file photo shows David Letterman riding a go kart powered by the reaction from mixing 648 Mentos candies into 108 two-liter bottles of Coke while taping a segment for "The Late Show with David Letterman" in New York. Letterman announced his retirement during a taping on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Although no specific date was announced he told the audience that he will leave his desk sometime in 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Jay Leno, host David Letterman -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 25: Marine Lance Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, is welcomed to the Thursday CBS Late Show by host David Letterman. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 30: Jay Carney and Late Show host David Letterman discuss White House press briefings during Wednesday's 7/30/14 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: 'Late Show with David Letterman' host David Letterman plays a tennis match against Serena Williams at Ed Sullivan Theater on August 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
THE VIEW - 5/12/14 After 17 incredible seasons and 10 different female panelists, Barbara Walters says farewell to live daily television with her final co-host appearance this week on 'The View,' the daytime program she created for ABC. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. Today's special guests include David Letterman, Michael J. Fox and guest co-host, Jane Fonda. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 5: Peyton Manning and Late Show host David Letterman try their passing skills at moving New York City cabs with open windows during Monday's taping 5/5/14 in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Talk Show Host David Letterman is seen on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by DVT/Star Max/GC Images)
Kennedy Center Honoree comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman arrives for an event in the East Room of the White House December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees before to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Actor Dustin Hoffman (L) chats with comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman during an event in the East Room of the White House on December 2, 2012 in Washington. US Presidenmt Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon, guest host David Letterman in the 1970s -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Stupid pet tricks with Late Show Host David Letterman on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Heather Wines/CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption)
NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien chats with Dave when he visits the Late Show with David Letterman, Thursday May 17, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 19: First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Late Show host David Letterman during Monday's 3/19/12 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: David Letterman jokes around with photographers at 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on September 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Guest host David Letterman on March 26, 1979 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
American comedian and television show host David Letterman, circa 1980. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images)
Host David Letterman and tennis player Maria Sharapova during a taping of 'Late Show with David Letterman' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on April 21, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/WireImage)
David Letterman walks hand-in-hand with Oprah Winfrey from the Ed Sullivan Theater to the premiere of Winfrey's new musical "The Color Purple" at the nearby Broadway Theater after Winfrey made her first ever appearance on "The Late Show" Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
David Letterman, right, the host of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, and his mother Dorothy Mengering share a laugh during the dedication of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building on the campus in Muncie, Ind., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. Letterman is a Ball State University graduate and grew up in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Talk show host David Letterman, left, gestures while talking with Johnny Carson during a taping of the "Tonight Show" at the NBC studio in Burbank, Calif., Aug 30, 1991. Letterman's presence on the "Tonight Show" was his first appearance since Carson announced his retirement next year. Letterman and Jay Leno, who is Carson's regular guest host and was named as his replacement, were in contention for the job. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)
** FILE ** David Letterman walks from the Ed Sullivan Theater after taping "The Late Show with David Letterman" Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Rountree)
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NEW YORK (AP) -- To deal with the present, we must understand the past.

As for predicting the future, fuhgeddaboutit. Not that media writers can resist another round of the Late Night Guessing Game, this time focusing on who will replace David Letterman when he steps down from CBS' "Late Show" next year.

Stephen Colbert is already being hailed as the front-runner, a forecast that may or may not be more credible than political pundits anointing a presidential hopeful hours after the Iowa caucuses.

So before we indulge in any further host handicapping, let's try for a little historical perspective by comparing today's late night landscape against the world in which "Late Show" was born:

- THEN: Dave arrived in the 11:35 p.m. slot on Aug. 30, 1993, with a startup venture for CBS going up against NBC's venerable "Tonight Show," where Jay Leno had already reigned for 15 months.

Apart from those arch-rivals, broadcast TV had only four other players in late night comedy-talk: Letterman's old haunt, "Late Night," where Conan O'Brien would soon preside, followed by "Later With Bob Costas," plus the syndicated "Arsenio Hall Show." Also, debuting a week later, "The Chevy Chase Show" aired for just a month on Fox. And none of the hosts was named Jimmy.

- NOW: There are at least 11 such shows on broadcast or cable, with roughly 18 percent of them hosted by a Jimmy.

- THEN: Although three-fourths of TV homes had VCRs (enabling a "late night" show to be time-shifted to any hour, day or night), almost no one knew how to program them, or had even gotten around to setting the clock. And no one owned a digital video recorder - because it hadn't been invented yet.

- NOW: Roughly half of TV homes (whether with or without VCRs) are equipped with DVRs, which further undermines the meaning of "late night": Most of these shows are taped around dusk, then plugged into a late night slot where they're available for a viewer to retrieve and watch whenever the mood strikes. With TV, "late night" is more a state of mind than a time of day.

- THEN: The term "Internet" would have registered barely a blip of recognition for most viewers, and, if by chance they had home Internet service, it only gave them crawling text through a dial-up connection. Web? Social media? YouTube? Streaming video? Google search? App? Whazzat?!

- NOW: Tweeting, second-screen interaction and viral video clips are necessary supplements to shore up the eroding audience a talk show can command solely on the TV platform.

- Speaking of which, THEN: The shiny new "Late Show" was scoring about 5.2 million viewers nightly, while "Tonight" averaged 4 million.

- NOW: Since Jimmy Fallon replaced Leno in February, "Tonight" has averaged about 5.2 million viewers (a huge initial boost from Leno's final-year average of 3.5 million), while Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel have each averaged about 2.7 million.

Many changes, indeed. But even in a changing world, some things never change.

THEN: Among that handful of hosts, only one was a black man.

NOW: Among today's crush of hosts, only one - that same guy, Arsenio Hall - is black.

THEN: No women were hosting.

NOW: One woman is a host- Chelsea Handler, though she has said she is ready to exit her E! program (and may or may not be a candidate for "Late Show").

THEN: For months, media reporters just couldn't stop churning out coverage of the Late Night War.

NOW: With Dave's news of his retirement plans, we're just getting started on another siege of stories.

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