Late Night Power Rankings
Kevin Noonan | Monday, February 17, 2014
All indications this time, though, are that the late night schedule is set in stone for now. Well, it’s television, so it’s set in stone-colored Play-Doh — which is as good as you can ask for, I guess. As we enter the next generation of “The Tonight Show” with Fallon as host, we will see a show battling with comedy heavyweights for audience attention. Jimmy Kimmel is a little over a year into his move to 11:35 in the line-up, and David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert remain as strong as ever, so I think it’s about as good a time as any to take stock of where everyone stands, power-ranking style. It comes with two exceptions — first, I’m only going to rank hosts under 60, since an educated guess tells me those are the only shows that people under 60 watch. And second, before anybody calls me a sexist, Chelsea Handler isn’t included, but neither is Craig Ferguson and both for the same reason — nobody watches their shows. Not “nobody,” okay, but their viewership numbers don’t put them in the same category as everyone else.
And one last caveat — though it may seem like I’m critical of some of these hosts, and though it may sound like I’m more a fan of one than the other, and though it may look like I’ve ranked them based on perceived quality, I would, in fact, probably drop out of school right now to accept a job (or internship, I’m not picky) with any of them. Just keep that in mind in case you happen to be reading this on your lunch break, Conan.
6. Conan O’Brien
Conan was, at one time, the brightest star in late night. When he was coming on after Leno in the 90s and early 2000s for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” he was weird sometimes, he was gross sometimes and he was smarter than his own good sometimes, but he was always hilarious. The energy was always high and the jokes were always absurd. He was slow out of the gates when he took over “The Tonight Show” in 2009, and he’s rarely been seen since.
5. Seth Meyers
He’s an unknown entity in terms of hosting his own show, but as head writer on “Saturday Night Live” and anchor for Weekend Update he proved his ability to make people laugh. If the Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin sketches are any indication of what’s to be expected on his new show, which he and others have really only described as not a copy of Jimmy Fallon’s show, it’s worth giving a try. And with Lorne Michaels on board as an executive producer, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” has a good chance.
4. Jimmy Kimmel
This was a tough call, because even though Jimmy Kimmel has been rising in the ratings over the last year and has earned his place in the 11:35 timeslot, he’s gotten lost in the press hullabaloo driven by Leno’s departure and Fallon’s coup. He edges out Jon Stewart in terms of viewership most nights (based on the few weeks of ratings numbers I’m looking at, most of this is just a gut call on my part), but he doesn’t seem to have the same kind of cultural resonance as Stewart. More than anything though, that Tostitos “Worst Contest Ever” stunt during the NCAA football National Championship game was just … awful.
3. Jon Stewart
Ever after stepping aside for the summer and letting his leading correspondent, John Oliver, sit in his seat and deliver “The Daily Show,” Stewart is still a master of skewering. His show is consistently pointed and funny every night, and bit-by-bit he continues to eat into the ratings of his network competitors. The only thing that keeps him from being number two, really, is that he’s not Stephen Colbert.
2. Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert, though, plays Stephen Colbert every night, much to his advantage in the power rankings. The character he’s created has transcended its original concept of simply parodying Bill O’Reilly. Colbert’s show hits hard and moves fast, and he never breaks character. The pistachio commercial at the Super Bowl was decidedly weird, but his name is still mentioned for seemingly every major entertainment role in Hollywood. If David Letterman ever retires, expect Colbert’s name to thrown around a lot.
1. Jimmy Fallon
Fallon is, without a doubt, the hottest name in late night television. He may not be the naturally funniest (I’d say Colbert, maybe Kimmel), or the best joke-writer (Meyers, I’d guess, but it’s a toss-up) or even the most brilliant (Conan, probably, though some say Colbert), but he has all three qualities to spare, and he is without a doubt the absolute best showman in the business. When he takes the stage every night, he puts on a show, combining his humor, musical talent, intelligence and natural good will to win over the audience. With The Roots at his side, Lorne Michaels at his back and his boundless energy fueling the show, I think “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will be a huge hit.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.