One thing that struck me during Letterman’s long farewell was how little I’d seen of his CBS show. That career-spanning montage at the end of his last episode was powerful but highlighted how so much of what Letterman will be remembered for came during his NBC run. His years on CBS were almost like a very lucrative reward for the groundbreaking stuff he did on NBC. Even with his best material behind him, though, even with his show regularly losing in the ratings to Fallon and Kimmel, Letterman was still the preeminent figure in late-night up to his finale, a living legend who had done as much to shape the current state of comedy as anybody else. And of course there’s more late-night comedy now than ever before—even with Letterman gone the late-night talk show schedule is incredibly cluttered, with the three classic broadcast networks and a handful of cable stations airing nightly talk shows. If you’re a Letterman stalwart looking for a new show to take Dave’s place on your DVR, or if you need something to help pass the time until Stephen Colbert’s CBS debut on September 8, there are more options than you probably care to explore. So we’ll help you out and rank the current roster of late-night talk show hosts.
We’re only looking at late-night talk shows where comedy is the central component (sorry, Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley) and that air on a nightly basis (sorry, John Oliver and Grace Helbig). We totally included Last Call with Carson Daly in our first draft until we remembered that Daly basically just introduces the show at this point and rarely does any interviews or comedy bits. Now that the caveats and qualifiers are over let’s get down to business.