If your dream is to become a late-night talk show host, good luck.
There aren’t many openings, and the hosts tend to like their jobs.
After all, it’s good work if you can get it. Late-night hosts are paid millions to interview interesting people. Meanwhile, millions of people welcome them into their homes every night.
With “The Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson coming to San Luis Obispo to perform stand-up — and with that whole Conan-Leno thing still hot off the presses — we thought this would be a good time to rank the Top Ten List of hosts from the past 20 years.
Some — like Joan Rivers, Magic Johnson and Alan Thicke — didn’t last long enough to make an impression. And Carson Daly, well—he’s just not funny.
Carson wasn’t the first late-night host, but he was the longest-lasting — and he set the standard that all others have emulated. After taking over “The Tonight Show” from Jack Paar in 1962, he became a fixture of late night, and generations went to bed with Johnny (so to speak).
Whenever animals from the San Diego Zoo did something unpredictable; Carnac the Magnificent; the emotional second-to-last show — the last to feature guests (Robin Williams and Bette Midler).
Only Johnny Carson hosted late-night TV longer than Letterman, who went on air in 1982. With CBS since 1993, the former weatherman isn’t quite as popular with the college crowd as he once was, but he still has that sarcastic wit and self-deprecating humor that has influenced guys like Jon Stewart.
After writing for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons,” Conan O’Brien succeeded David Letterman as the host of NBC’s “Late Night” in 1993. O’Brien moved to “The Tonight Show” in June 2009, but his tenure was short-lived. After a prolonged contract battle with NBC, O’Brien walked away with a $33 million severance package amidst rumors that he may move to Fox.
Best known to American audiences as Mr. Wick on “The Drew Carey Show,” this Scottish stand-up comic and onetime punk drum-
mer dabbled in musical theater, television and film before replacing Craig Kilborn as the host of CBS’s “The Late Late Show.” Since taking the helm on Jan. 3, 2005, Ferguson has set all-time viewer records and ratings records.
Most people know Costas from his career in sports broadcasting. But from 1988-1994, he hosted an interview show, “Later with Bob Costas,” which featured nonsports figures such as Bill Murray, Barry Goldwater, Brooke Shields and Pierre Salinger.
With his mammoth chin, silver mane and peculiar patois, Jay Leno has been the butt of show business jokes for years. He’s also one of late-night television’s biggest movers and shakers. The comedian first stirred things up when he replaced Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show” in 1992, bumping rival David Letterman. Leno stepped down in May 2009, only to return to “Tonight” (the first show of his second tenure will be on March 15) after ratings lagged for primetime effort “The Jay Leno Show.”
Radio personality Jimmy Kimmel made his reputation as a loutish everyman on “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and “The Man Show” before making his latenight debut in 2003 with ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Although no longer “live,” he continues to be the only late-night host who doesn’t tape in the afternoon.
When the late night wars were escalating, Arsenio Hall joined the fray. From 1988 to 1994, his syndicated “The Arsenio Hall Show” brought a younger, hipper, urban audience to late night. His audiences were known for their barks of approval with raised, circling fists that became a pop culture rally cry outside the show.
Before Jon Stewart, Kilborn was the host of “The Daily Show.” And when he took over “The Late Late Show” in 1999, he became the second tall redheaded late-night TV host. Pleasing his “Daily Show” fan base, Kilborn carried some of his regular features over to CBS.
A “Saturday Night Live” cast member from 1998 to 2004, Jimmy Fallon released a comedy album, hosted the MTV Music Awards and starred in the movies “Taxi” and “Fever Pitch” before succeeding Conan O’Brien as the host of “Late Night” on March 2, 2009.