With the end of David Letterman's 22-year run in CBS' 11:35 p.m. spot, the network seems to be missing a real opportunity to keep a hold on the late-night spot. But instead, they're pretty much giving up on it until September when Stephen Colbert begins his new show.
In the meantime, CBS has an hour of "The Mentalist" reruns filling the hole between the local news and the promising new talk show being done by James Corden, who took over Craig Ferguson's spot a few months ago. When it was a first-run series, "The Mentalist" did pretty well for CBS. But now that the show is out of production, it becomes one of many re-runs that can be seen late-night on local affiliates and on cable.
Dropping the late-night talk show format at 11:35 puts CBS back in the dark days before they hired Letterman. Although he consistently trailed Jay Leno in the ratings, Letterman did build a solid and loyal following that was a profit center for CBS – more so than the reruns that had filled that time slot for many years.
So I can't understand why CBS is just giving up the slot. If I were CBS CEO Les Moonves, I'd do one of two things.
If Letterman would permit it, I'd run a "Best of Letterman" series of reruns until the new guy comes on board. It would hold the Letterman fans, and after all the hype of the past several weeks, it would probably draw lots of new viewers who never watched Letterman but would now tune in out of curiosity about what they've missed all these years.
If Letterman doesn't want to license those shows to CBS, preferring to have his final show mark the end of him on TV at all, there's another option. Start re-running past Late Late Shows with James Corden. There aren't a lot of them yet, but showing them at 11:35 might build an audience for him in his 12:35 spot.
Actually, there's yet another option which CBS already tried when Craig Ferguson left. During the few months before Corden started, CBS had a series of guest hosts, including many show biz people who you wouldn't expect to see in that role. Some turned out to be pretty good doing soft interviews, and at the least it kept the talk show format alive in that time slot on CBS.
It seems that CBS is just throwing in the towel at 11:35, waiting for Colbert. But as viewers surf over to Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, they'll get comfortable with either or both Jimmy's, and some won't come back – even for Stephen Colbert.
It makes sense to me, but what do I know? I'm not getting anywhere close to the $54.4 million Les Moonves earns, so he must know a lot more than I do. Maybe.