The David Letterman Effect: 5 Key Players Left in Limbo by His 'Late Show' Retirement

Illustration by: Peter Arkle
David Letterman

CBS' exiting host still has his Worldwide Pants shingle as he leaves behind a struggling time slot neighbor (Craig Ferguson), declining ad revenue and the rapidly evolving late-night landscape.

This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The question of who will replace David Letterman at CBS is one of many in the wake of his April 3 news that he will depart Late Show in 2015. Among the challenges the comic, who turns 67 April 12, leaves CBS is how to lower the average viewer age (58.7) and reverse ad revenue decline of about 10 percent in 2013 to $129.6 million, according to Kantar Media. "They're going to try to make their daypart younger," says Sam Armando of media buying firm SMGx. How his exit impacts five key players:

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Worldwide Pants: Letterman's production company isn't going anywhere. The shingle, which makes Late Show, co-produces The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, rakes in syndication money from Everybody Loves Raymond and has an active development slate, including a game show at Nickelodeon and a Harry Connick Jr. comedy at Fox. Insiders say Letterman hasn't decided how personally involved he wants to be, though president and CEO Rob Burnett will remain at the helm. It is unlikely that Worldwide Pants will produce a late-night show post-Letterman, who, aside from Johnny Carson, has been the lone late-nighter to own his time slot. Notes one source, "CBS is buying retail when they could be buying wholesale."

Craig Ferguson: Sources say the Late Late Show host, 51, almost certainly will not be promoted to 11:35. The real question is whether the softly rated talent (he's averaging less than half of Seth Meyers' NBC numbers in the key demo) will keep his job when his contract expires before year's end. (During the last contract renewal, the series became a co-production with the network.) CBS would have to pay a reported $5 million go-away fee, and Ferguson could get a reprieve as CBS first figures out its 11:35 plan.

The Contenders: CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves is said to be open to candidates outside the traditional mold, and network favorite Neil Patrick Harris, 40, recently free from How I Met Your Mother, is believed to be interested in the gig. Chelsea Handler, 39, whose manager told THR that she will leave E!, is considered unlikely for 11:35 or 12:35. Neither Tina Fey, 43, nor Amy Poehler, 42, is said to be interested. One choice that could throw off the late-night ecosystem is Stephen Colbert, 49. A move for Comedy Central's No. 2 host would be a second blow to the network, which lost The Daily Show standout John Oliver, 36, to HBO when its schedule couldn't accommodate a series of his own. Ratings champ Jon Stewart, 51, is said to be uninterested in a CBS move.

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New York and L.A.: In the wake of Jimmy Fallon moving The Tonight Show to New York, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have made pleas for Late Show. A decision likely will come down to who gets the host job. Insiders see no booking benefit to a Hollywood move because Jimmy Kimmel is there and most press tours hit New York. CBS also owns the Ed Sullivan Theater.

CBS: With Late Show profit down to less than $20 million in 2013, observers believe the challenge for Moonves is to create a show that appeals to a digital-savvy audience, as ABC and NBC have done. Notes one: "The game change in that world will be when somebody figures out how to monetize the Internet in a meaningful way."