Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

Conan O'Brien on his TBS show "Conan" (Photo: TBS)

Conan O’Brien on his TBS show “Conan” (Photo: TBS)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 5, 2013 — It’s a funny thing about predictions: They have a way of being wrong — especially mine.

Nevertheless, here’s a prediction that’s part educated guess and part wishful thinking: The man who will (or should) be hired eventually to succeed David Letterman is Conan O’Brien.

Why? Because when all the candidates and their qualifications are sifted and weighed, Conan should emerge as the one with the best resumé — not to mention the best temperament and fan base for the job.

Here’s the case for Conan:

1) Conan is the one guy who can give the two Jimmies a run for their money: Conan O’Brien would give CBS the best chance of maintaining a level playing field with Jimmy Fallon (who’s now 38) and Jimmy Kimmel (now 45) or even beating them.  Though he’s a few years older than each of them, Conan — who will turn 50 this month — is cut from the same generational cloth as those two.  And because he is a few years older, his fans have been with him longer.  They’re also intensely loyal and will doubtlessly follow him wherever he goes.

Also read: An aging generation mourns loss of Jay, Dave

2) Conan is well-connected, well-liked, and experienced on both coasts: He’s the only late-night host of his generation who’s done shows in both New York and California and he is apparently comfortable in both.  Moreover, he’s been around long enough to have formed relationships with dozens (if not hundreds) of A-list celebrities.  And, like Fallon, he comes out of the Lorne Michaels/”Saturday Night Live”/”Late Night” world and has many of the same friendships that those guys have.  If Conan were to come to New York and take up residence at the Ed Sullivan Theater, the late-night booking wars in New York would be intense.

Or, if it somehow came to pass that CBS would move “Late Show” to California — to take up the vacuum that will be left there after “The Tonight Show” shifts to New York — Conan would likely do very well when competing with Kimmel for West Coast guests.

3) Of all the late-night hosts out there, Conan O’Brien is the one who is most like Letterman.  Like Dave, Conan is the one guy who is the “least similar” (or “most different”) from the other late-night hosts.  For example, as  one columnist pointed out the other day, when you stop and really look at Jimmy Fallon, his style bears similarities to Jay Leno’s — greeting every guest as if he or she is just the greatest actor/actress/comedian/recording star/whatever who has ever lived, and then engaging in a conversation with him or her in which everything he or she says is just the cleverest thing Fallon has ever heard in his life.   (Actually, come to think of it, he’s more prone to this behavior than Leno.)

But Conan?  Like Letterman, he goes his own way with guests.  Sure, he’s well-mannered with them, but on his show, they’re not always regarded as sacred cows.  A case in point was the bit seen the other night on “Conan,” when Triumph the Insult-Comic Dog encountered the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and verbally assaulted them without mercy.

Late-night wars: Our coverage so far:

NBC’s bold move: Fix a show that wasn’t broken

Fallon in 2011: I’ll take over when Jay’s ready

Leno jokes: ‘Young’ Jay will replace ‘old’ Dave

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

Of course, this whole scenario would depend heavily on how Conan himself perceives his future, where he wants to take his career, whether he’d even consider a move back to New York to host “Late Show” or whether CBS would even be interested in him (my guess is: They will be).  At present, Conan seems satisfied at TBS, and the people at Turner seem happy enough with him that they just extended his contract to November 2015.

In addition, no reports have emerged during all the recent attention being paid to the succession plan now in place at “The Tonight Show” that CBS is now thinking about doing the same thing with Letterman and his “Late Show.”

The last time anyone addressed the prospect of Letterman calling it a day was Letterman himself, when he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for one of her “Next Chapter” shows that aired on OWN last January.  Dave talked about it when Oprah asked him about his relationship with CBS President Les Moonves.

Yes,” Dave said then, “I really abused him [years ago on “Late Show”] because I thought that’s what guys in that position were for. I realized I was making mistakes and they’ve been nothing but gracious and generous to me. So now, he and I have an agreement: When he wants me to go, all he has to do is call and say, ‘You know, Dave, it’s time to go,’ and I’ll go. I will miss doing what I’m doing, but I won’t feel like I have left anything on the table.”

Well, whether the end of the Letterman era (whenever it eventually happens) will play out quite that smoothly, with Letterman acquiescing that readily, remains to be seen.

Still, the odds favor it happening in the next few years, and Conan O’Brien is the best fit to replace him.  The fact is (and not that anyone should care how I feel personally about the situation), I have always liked Conan.  And if he was to get another shot at competing in the 11:35 p.m. time period, then, to me, all would be right in the universe.

And if and when it happens, please remember that you read it here first (unless someone else has already written it and you’ve read it elsewhere — which is entirely possible!).

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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