Late-night talk show hosts play musical chairs

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Sam Gershik, News Lite Editor

The late-night talk show landscape has changed drastically in the past couple of months as several legendary hosts have stepped down, and some very skilled performers have filled their shoes.

Since the days of Steve Allen, the first host of “The Tonight Show,” the format of late night talk shows hasn’t been changed. Shows are merely passed down to new hosts when the previous host retires.

David Letterman announced on April 3 his retirement from “The Late Show,” which he’s hosted since its start in 1982.

He was television’s greatest talk show host since Johnny Carson retired in 1992, inspiring comic geniuses such as Jim Gaffigan, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, Fallon, and Seth Meyers are the newest big names in late-night talk. Colbert is taking Letterman’s “The Late Show,” Fallon took “The Tonight Show” after Jay Leno stepped down this past year, and Meyers, former head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” took over Fallon’s “Late Night.”

Letterman started as a weatherman in his hometown of Indianapolis and moved to Los Angeles to become a comedy writer for comedian Jimmie Walker’s stand-up routine.

He then became a morning show host, winning two Emmys, and then made his own late night show, which aired first on NBC and then moved to CBS.

But Fallon had a very different path. He started as a stand-up comedian and joined Los Angeles’ division of the improv group The Groundlings. After being discovered by “Saturday Night Live,” Fallon benefited from a positive relationship with “SNL” creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, leading to Fallon’s promotion to host of “Late Night.”

After presenting his great hosting skills, Fallon was first in line for Leno’s job as the“Tonight Show” host.

Colbert’s promotion to “The Late Show” was very unexpected. Colbert already had his satirical political talk show “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. While his show is very entertaining, it doesn’t exactly put him in a great position to take over one of the most revered shows in television today.

This promotion of an “outsider” led Craig Ferguson, host of “The Late Late Show” to also retire, as Ferguson was undoubtedly expected to be the go-to guy for the promotion.

Ferguson’s show was as boring as “The Tonight Show,” with incredibly long interviews, really weird set pieces, and silly bits like dancing with two men in a horse suit, puppet shows, and talking with his robot skeleton sidekick, Geoff Peterson.

Watching Ferguson’s show was like spending a week at a zany uncle’s beach bungalow. And given that his most-viewed show ever had a mere 3.24 million viewers (almost half of ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), it is no surprise that he decided to retire.

With Ferguson moving on to a game show called “Celebrity Name Game,” Colbert ending his show, and Chelsea Handler ending her E! Network talk show after this season, many spots will be open for new talent in the late night roster.

These openings have presented multiple opportunities for new comics to step into success. Many have said that Tina Fey, Tig Notaro or Wyatt Cenac would be amazing hosts, stepping away from the traditional white male host.

Fey is well-known from hosting SNL’s Weekend Update with Fallon, and her subsequent success with “30 Rock.” Fey’s show would be a mix of goofy jokes and cerebral humor.

Notaro is still relatively unknown, but she’s a brilliant stand-up comedienne and podcaster and has proven that she would be an adept interviewer.

Cenac is another incredibly witty stand-up, and is just strange enough to have amazing bits on his show.

Though television will miss those who have decided to retire this year, new and skilled performers will take their place and entertain audiences for years to come.