After 21 years, David Letterman announced today that he will retire from “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 2015. That is a remarkable tenure. But looking back at the state of late night television when Letterman moved to CBS in 1993, it is extraordinary how little has changed.
Yes, segments on shows like “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” have been precision-engineered to go viral online, and the jokes and the celebrities are different. But the men behind the desks looked awfully similar. Jay Leno, who took over NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in 1992 may have retired (again) earlier in 2014, but his name still comes up whenever it seems like a network might be eager to revamp its late-night lineup. Conan O’Brien, who took over NBC’s “Late Night” from Letterman in 1993, now hosts his titular show on TBS. MTV got into the late-night game that year with “The Jon Stewart Show.” Fox tried out “The Chevy Chase Show,” which lasted only five weeks. Today, Chase’s fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Seth Meyers is showing more staying power with “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” Arsenio Hall’s talk show faltered in 1994, but it was revived last fall.