Who will replace Letterman? Top 10 candidates

(USA TODAY) With David Letterman retiring next year after a record run in late-night TV, speculation is already rampant about who will replace him on CBS's Late Show. We handicap some candidates.

1. Stephen Colbert

Pro: His contract is up in December; he's a star and well-versed in politics and entertainment.

Con: He'd have to give up his blowhard mock-conservative persona that made him famous and just be himself. Which might actually be a plus.

2. Jon Stewart

Pro: His Daily Show is more popular than Colbert's, he has a big base of influential fans and he's available as of mid-2015, when Letterman is expected to step down.

Cons: Stewart has tremendous freedom at Comedy Central, has said he has no interest in hosting a network talk show and claims celebrity interviews are the least favorite part of his show.

3. Craig Ferguson

Pro: He's the heir apparent whose show follows (and is produced by) Letterman, and a clause in his current contract "guarantees" him the chair -- or a payout.

Con: He's not well-known, his ratings are low and insiders say he's not being seriously considered for the gig.

4. John Oliver

Pro: He reportedly talked to CBS earlier and had great reviews (and solid ratings) for last summer's guest-anchor gig on The Daily Show.

Con: He signed a deal with HBO for a weekly late-night talk show that premieres later this month.

5. Ellen DeGeneres

Pro: She'd add gender diversity to late-night, she has a successful daytime talk show and an easy rapport with celebrities.

Con: DeGeneres is under contract for an extremely lucrative job, and has essentially inherited Oprah Winfrey's mantle as the queen of daytime.

6. Neil Patrick Harris

Pro: He's an awards-show veteran and a likable personality who has guest-hosted with Live with Kelly. And his day job on CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother has ended.

Con: He's on Broadway now, has appeared in movies and may not want to commit to a long-term contract for a daily talk show.

7. Chelsea Handler

Pro: She has late-night talk-show experience and just announced plans to exit her gig on E! later this year.

Con: The abrasive comedian is considered too edgy for CBS' mainstream audience.

8. Jay Leno

Pro: He's newly unemployed, has a solid late-night following that matches CBS' older-skewing audience and loves to work.

Con: Just two months ago, he vowed he'd never do another nightly talk show. But we've heard that before.

9. Conan O'Brien

Pro: He's also a late-night veteran with a loyal (and younger) core fan base.

Con: That fan base isn't big enough (as evidenced by his cable ratings), and he's seen as damaged goods after his heated Tonight Show exit.

10. Louis CK

Pro: He's a popular comedian with a beloved and scrappy cable sitcom. Presciently, a three-episode arc last season had his semi-fictional character vying to replace Letterman.

Con: He doesn't like suits, his career is going just fine and there's almost no chance he'd actually do it.


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