Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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End of David Letterman era

May 13, 2015

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After 33 years hosting late night programs, David Letterman is signing off next week. He will be handing over the reigns of the CBS Late Show that he created to Stephen Colbert (whose new episodes start on September 8).

Although the 68-year-old host’s grip on the coveted 18-49 demographic has been slipping for some time  Letterman has still managed to bring in the second-most total viewers for that late night time slot.

That’s quite an impressive feat for a show that has been airing (in this CBS incarnation) for more than two decades.

And, even with his audience skewing older, there is no denying the impact that Letterman (who is the longest running late night host in history) has had on the current crop of hosts and future generations to come.

As this recent article from The New York Times points out, many current late night hosts (including Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and Seth Meyers) are using gimmicks and sketches that he previously employed.

Bill Carter, who penned the book The Late Shift (on the longstanding rivalry between Letterman and Jay Leno), goes into great detail in his Hollywood Reporter tribute about the groundbreaking way that Letterman changed the late night landscape.

Younger generations may be not know it, but Letterman was once the young, edgy alternative comedian with a no-nonsense acerbic personality that was completely different than the polished performances of the likes of the Johnny Carson.

Now, of course, he’s overshadowed by younger hosts such as Fallon and Kimmel, whose popularity among millennials beats that of Letterman. Letterman had just a .52 rating in the young demographic last quarter, compared to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with a 1.12, and Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s .63),

Kimmel announced he won’t air a new episode opposite Letterman’s send off as a sign of respect, goes to show what an incredible longstanding impact Letterman has had on his younger colleagues who likely grew up watching and idolizing him the way he watched and idolized Carson.

Letterman leaves behind his creation in the hands of Colbert, a potentially strong choice for the role. His final episode of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central brought in a series high of 2.5 million viewers and a 1.0 rating for audiences with 18-49.

With numbers like those (which are from a cable network, and not even a major broadcast network) Colbert could definitely give Fallon a run for his money.

The true test will be seeing if his audience, which adored his fictional talk show persona, will still love his real personality enough to follow and stick with him in the fall. He’s definitely got some big shoes to fill.

Story Ideas

David Letterman Leaves His Successors a Rich Comedic Bequest

‘Late Shift’ Author Pens David Letterman Tribute

Jimmy Kimmel Won’t Air New Episode Opposite Letterman Finale

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