Circle of late night's an expanding one
Faces may be changing, but there are more people talking than ever.
JUST THINKING about late-night TV is beginning to make me sleepy. One Jimmy replaces Jay, another bumps "Nightline."
A now 67-year-old man named Dave tells a shaggy-bird story that ends with the announcement that sometime next year he'll retire after what by then will be 33 years as a late-night host. The speculation about his successor begins before the show's even aired.
The lists are long, they're diverse - people of color, even (gasp) women are mentioned - but no one seriously thinks CBS hadn't surveyed the field long before David Letterman and his son, Harry, spotted that immature bald eagle.
I'm grateful to CBS for not dragging out the process and to both the network and Letterman for avoiding the bad feeling engendered by Leno's two exits. And I'm personally happy about the choice of Stephen Colbert, whose Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report" had gradually replaced "Late Show with David Letterman" as my excuse for staying up later than I probably should most nights.
But I know CBS didn't do it for me, but in hopes of attracting the somewhat younger male viewers that Colbert and his time-slot partner, "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, draw to Comedy Central. To quote Ad Age, "Mr. Letterman, Mr. Fallon and Mr. Kimmel all skew female."
That describes most TV. Women have long watched more television than men. (Nielsen reports that we also consume more media on our smartphones.) Older people watch more TV than younger people. African-Americans watch more than any other ethnic group. And in a medium that's still largely paid for through advertising, the money tends to follow the people who play hardest to get.
So, if you're a baby boomer who'd rather go to bed at a decent hour than fall asleep watching someone who doesn't remember the Beatles, your broadcast network choices will be limited when Letterman leaves. Or will they?
Arsenio Hall, back in late-night syndication (11 p.m., PHL17) after a nearly two-decade absence, is 58. Charlie Rose, burning the candle at both ends - midnights on WHYY12 and as co-anchor of "CBS This Morning" - is 72.
For all the reflexive fuss we make when new people move in behind the desks, the late-night landscape's a bit different than it was in 1992, when Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show" after 30 years.
Anyone plugging a movie or album has so many potential venues that it's little wonder Jimmy Fallon sometimes prefers to play games with some of his "Tonight Show" guests rather than simply talk with them. Look who else is talking between 11 and midnight:
_ Tavis Smiley. (11 p.m., WHYY12). The public radio host and PBS talker interviews a variety of guests, some of whom you'll see on other shows, but some you might not.
_ Chelsea Handler. "Chelsea Lately," currently at 11 p.m. on E!, will end later this year, but Handler's being mentioned as a possible replacement for CBS "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson, whose contract's reportedly up in 2015. I'd like to see Ferguson - still one of the better conversationalists in late night - hang around, but again, it's not about me. Handler might also be one of the many candidates for Colbert's current spot.
_ Jon Stewart. The "Daily Show" host will still be delivering the fake news at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central after Colbert decamps. (Which, by the way, isn't supposed to happen until the end of this year. So enjoy Colbert's hilariously self-absorbed cable-news guy persona while you can. That Stephen's not moving to CBS.)
_ Keith Olbermann. Remember him? Now talking sports, not politics, on the succinctly titled "Olbermann" at 11 p.m. on ESPN2. Probably not interviewing Lindsay Lohan. So there's that.
_ Conan O'Brien. The star of "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) may have had bigger audiences on NBC's "Late Night" and, briefly, on "The Tonight Show," but his TBS viewers have been much younger than those watching NBC, CBS and ABC.
_ Andy Cohen. The Bravo executive does double duty as host of "Watch What Happens: Live" (11 p.m., Bravo), which functions primarily as a promotional vehicle for the network's "reality" programming, making it your go-to show for "Real Housewives" rehashes.