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Late night then and now as Dave prepares to take off

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.


Join the discussion

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you hippie April 10 2014 at 4:21 PM

Spongebob reruns, here i come!

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Dennis April 10 2014 at 6:34 PM

Sorry to see Dave go,we are the same age, hold the same views, and I like his guests and comedy, and also love the band, whch I'm sure will leave, along with Alan, so kind of bummed about it, but Letterman deserves a life at this point, and needs to be with his son more, so Thanks Dave for all the memories, thanks paul for all the music, and I wish you both well.

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LORI April 10 2014 at 6:05 PM

The "Ed Sullivan Theatre" should be renamed The "David Letterman Theatre."

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1 reply
customcarry1911 LORI April 10 2014 at 6:27 PM

Ed Sullivan was in the public eye as a sportscaster, newspaper columniest, & radio/television personality for better than 60 years. That is HIS theatre and always will be.

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jettingupward April 10 2014 at 3:48 PM

I'm gonna miss the Lone Ranger story Jay Thomas tells on the last show before X-Mas every year, the knocking the meatball off of the tree, Darlene Love. Dave should have gotten the Carson gig when Johnny left. Carson was the best by a mile but Dave was a clear cut runner up.

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1 reply
ChingOW Mango jettingupward April 10 2014 at 11:31 PM

Agree! They are both gentlemen who allowed the guests to talk and entertain the audience. They knew when to shut up and when to encourage the guests. Johnny Carson was the best at what he did and Dave Letterman learned from the best!

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brennemanbelkin April 10 2014 at 10:34 PM

Ferguson should get the job.

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cact25 April 10 2014 at 2:53 PM

Anybody will be a great alternative to Fallon.

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Albert April 10 2014 at 2:52 PM

Dave will be missed. He is a true trooper. Watched Dave for many many years and enjoyed his sense of humor and sanity to the Late Talk shows. His mannerism and knowledge of the comedy world politics and good interviews will be hard to beat. He stands out above them all. Paul Shaffer will be missed also. What a great band over all of these years. His odd way of having fun with all politicians was outstanding and well rrespected for all its humor. Dave, you will be sorely missed. Time to enjoy life with family. Last but not least, you have brought joy to millions of fans over the yers. Bon Voyage.

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David Scott April 10 2014 at 2:49 PM

Johnny Carson and Tom Snyder are more entertaining in their current state,
than Colbert is in his.

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Norman April 10 2014 at 2:42 PM

Leno was still the best over the years except for Johnny Carson, but Letterman is still a funny man and will be missed. Fallon is too silly and talks too fast and does not do a good interview. He has to mature.

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lwmg April 10 2014 at 1:32 PM

Dave, I'm sorry to see you go I will miss you late night alot. Hope you will be happy with your replacement because he has been my favorite after you.

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1 reply
smarks1145 lwmg April 10 2014 at 2:11 PM

Watching Jimmy Fallon's thank you notes:
I must thank NBC for giving me a reason to go to bed early to miss this foolishness.I am in the wrong demographic I guess.

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1 reply
Norman smarks1145 April 10 2014 at 2:44 PM


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