Still, late night hosts are more than the guys who squeeze the last ratings juice out of a broadcast day. They’re the face of comedy for the networks where they serve; the Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes hosts who teach the rest of us what’s funny and what’s not.
So, even if you haven’t watched Letterman since Cher (that would be back in 1987), you should recognize that these jobs matter. And who gets them — or gets long years to perfect their performance in them, like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien once did — says volumes about who matters in television. And who doesn’t.
I have few illusions that CBS will break television’s long streak of hiring youthful white guys to host these shows. They’ve known Letterman was likely going to retire since he signed an unprecedented one-year deal with the network in 2013. If they don’t have a serious succession plan in place — one claims they spoke to John Oliver before he inked a deal with HBO — they’re not nearly as smart as I know they are.