David Letterman : If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

With David Letterman's upcoming retirement, it makes you wonder what could have happened to late night television if he had been named the Tonight Show host instead of Jay Leno. Here are some of my theories:

- Jay Leno would've went to CBS to host The Late Show, probably still hosting today without the threat of being replaced by either Conan or Fallon.
- Conan O'Brien still may have been the host of Late Night, but probably would have left in 2001 to go to FOX, since in all likelihood he wouldn't have been offered the Tonight Show job, or at least not for a few more years.
- With Leno at CBS instead of Letterman, Craig Kilborn may not have gone to The Late Late Show, since according to "The War For Late Night", Kilborn was chosen over Jon Stewart because Stewart would've spurred talk of a successor to Letterman. Thus, Kilborn either stays at "The Daily Show" or returns to anchor SportsCenter instead of fading to general obscurity.
- Without "The Daily Show", Jon Stewart would've continued his stand-up career or continued in movies. More than likely though, he would have still been a late night host, on ABC, CBS (after Leno), or NBC after Letterman.
- Jimmy Kimmel, being a big Letterman fan, probably would have accepted the job to replace Conan and air after Dave on Late Night.
- As for Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson and Seth Meyers, it's hard to say. Ferguson would've likely continued his acting and stand-up comedy career. Fallon may have gotten a late-night show to air after Letterman, Leno, or Conan, and Seth Meyers would have stayed at SNL.

Sorry if this all sounds stupid, but it's just my opinion. What do you think?

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show


- Jay Leno would've went to CBS to host The Late Show, probably still hosting today without the threat of being replaced b68 by either Conan or Fallon.


Yes, and he could've had that post, too had NBC not promised him "The Tonight Show" upon Johnny's retirement- and then kinda went back on their agreement when an angry Dave was threatening to go to CBS himself. Personally, I wish Jay had accepted CBS's offer. It would've saved him all kinds of grief from Letterman's fans, and later Team CoCo, as well as the less than respectful treatment he received from more than one double-crossing NBC executive.

The downside of that, however: the possibility Dave would've gotten the sack at "TTS" to make room for Conan- and, in all likeliness, with his ratings trailing Jay's as did for so many years, NBC might have fired Dave a lot sooner than they did Jay. So, going to CBS was the best move Dave could've made for his career as it allowed him to do his thing at a network that didn't require him to beat the competition the way NBC does.



- Conan O'Brien still may have been the host of Late Night, but probably would have left in 2001 to go to FOX,


Or ABC, both of which were offering Conan a show at 11:35, weren't asking him to wait 5 years for it, and FOX was offering him more than double what NBC was to host "The Tonight Show".



- With Leno at CBS instead of Letterman, Craig Kilborn may not have gone to The Late Late Show, since according to "The War For Late Night", Kilborn was chosen over Jon Stewart because Stewart would've spurred talk of a successor to Letterman.



And, as we now know, Stewart was Letterman's choice to take over the "Late Show", but (like with both Carson, and Jay at "TTS"), Dave wasn't consulted as to who should replace him. It's the networks that make these decisions and not the outgoing hosts.


- As for Jimmy Fallon....it's hard to say.


Fallon's a very likeable guy with a talent for impressions, but he's absolutely won the lottery. Having Lorne Michaels in his corner when NBC was looking for a new host for "Late Night" was a real blessing. Fallon went from being just another ex-SNL cast member who failed at a movie career, and didn't even have a steady gig at the time, to in just a handful of years becoming the host of "The Tonight Show". That's quite a stroke of luck.

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

Thanks for replying to my post. I also think Jimmy Fallon is a lucky man, maybe one of the luckiest in recent show business memory, to go from SNL also-ran to "Tonight Show" host. He only hosted "Late Night" for five years before hosting "TTS", while Conan had to wait sixteen, but I guess that's show business. I feel bad though, for both Conan and Jay Leno. Conan because he had a lucrative job at NBC hosting "TTS", and is now out in the boonies so to speak on TBS. Whether or not you agree with NBC and what they did to Conan, leaving the Peacock network was a mistake in my opinion, much like Katie Couric leaving "The Today Show" to go to CBS.

I also feel bad for Jay Leno. I wasn't really a fan of Jay before, but after reading "The War For Late Night" and seeing him sobbing on last year's "TTS" finale, he seems less like this evil backstabber portrayed in the media and like what he probably was: a successful late-night host, who like Conan, got screwed over by management, first to exit for Conan and then Fallon, despite being at the top for mostly two decades. Can you imagine any other job or position where you were at the top for that long and have someone say you have to make way for another person?

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show


I also think Jimmy Fallon is a lucky man, maybe one of the luckiest in recent show business memory, to go from SNL also-ran to "Tonight Show" host. He only hosted "Late Night" for five years before hosting "TTS", while Conan had to wait sixteen, but I guess that's show business.


Yes, there truly is no business like show business.



I feel bad though, for both Conan and Jay Leno. Conan because he had a lucrative job at NBC hosting "TTS", and is now out in the boonies so to speak on TBS. Whether or not you agree with NBC and what they did to Conan, leaving the Peacock network was a mistake in my opinion, much like Katie Couric leaving "The Today Show" to go to CBS.


Yeah, I agree with Jerry Seinfeld about the "psychic bloodletting" as he put it that occurred when Conan decided to leave over the time bump issue. I get that he was really annoyed, and didn't think "TTS" should start at midnight. Still, that would hardly have been the first major change to that show in it's more than half century history (Carson himself decided to slash the running time from 90 to 60 minutes for goodness sakes and the show still endured), and I think Conan ought to have given his staff a break and at least tried it. And if he'd hung in there, he might still have emerged on top with Jay (once again) being cut loose. We'll just never know. However, I think TBS has provided Conan with a good home where he can do things his way and the guests seem to be comparable to what the network shows attract. And Conan got all that money from NBC, too, so things worked out pretty well for him.



I also feel bad for Jay Leno. I wasn't really a fan of Jay before, but after reading "The War For Late Night" and seeing him sobbing on last year's "TTS" finale, he seems less like this evil backstabber portrayed in the media and like what he probably was: a successful late-night host, who like Conan, got screwed over by management, first to exit for Conan and then Fallon, despite being at the top for mostly two decades. Can you imagine any other job or position where you were at the top for that long and have someone say you have to make way for another person?


Yes, I think Jay's about the most unfairly judged personality in television history. And little wonder when you've got a boob like Howard Stern strenuously trying to maintain the perception among his listeners that Jay is some sort of monster. Watch and see if Howard doesn't bring up Jay during his last "Late Show" appearance this month. As for Dave, it was nice to hear him say that he and Jay actually talk on the phone now. And, while it's not been mentioned on the official guest list, I am still hopeful he'll have Jay on before his last telecast. That would be a true television event.

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

Some of the best moments from when Dave Letterman was on after Carson on NBC were when he had Jay Leno as a guest. They were hilarious together. What a shame it ended that way. At least they've made their peace.

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

I remember one poster saying that the best talk show ever would be hosted by Dave Letterman with Jay Leno as his only guest. Think I would agree with that, too. Those two guys together, that's as good as late night tv gets.

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

Very well-thought post and I cannot disagree with any of your conclusions.

I bet Conan is kicking himself for not leaving NBC back in the early 2000s...but hindsight is 20/20. I personally thought the 2009/10 Tonight Show debacle was horrible. Perhaps Conan should have taken the 12:05 slot that was offered? I don't think he could have done it without being resentful (understandably).

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

If Dave had be chosen to replace Carson, he would have gone to Los Angeles and broken New York's heart. Dave brought life back to the Ed Sullivan theater and gave life to that neighborhood. I remember what 53rd and Broadway looked like before Dave. A strip club and a Roy Rogers restaurant. It was dark and dank and dead. 53rd and Broadway should be named 'David Letterman Way'. I will miss Dave. Maybe he'll pop in once in a while. If only to annoy Stephen Colbert.

Re: If NBC picked Letterman for Tonight Show

The NBC "suits" made the right call in giving the show to Leno. Dave just hasn't worn well over the years. His tired gags, bitterness, and sarcasm drove a lot of his audience away. IRC, his audience is 1/2 it was in the 1990s, while Leno more or less kept the same 5 million viewers.

Too bad, because Letterman was REALLY fresh and Funny in the 1980s and early 90s. He seemed to be an outsider interested only in being funny. The suits, bubble-headed celebrities like Cher and Shirley MacClaine were satirized and lampooned. However, by 2000, all that was gone.
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