Neil Patrick Harris is a classic Hollywood multiple-threat, a man who does it all. He is an actor, singer, dancer, magician, and awards show host… and as it turns out, he was almost the host of his own late night talk show. Last month, the entertainment industry was rocked with the news that David Letterman – a late night institution and living legend in his own right – would be stepping down from his long-running job as host of Late Night with David Letterman. The rumor mill began buzzing as to who would take Letterman’s place; after all, the talk show scene is not known for its smooth transitions.
Typically, appointing a new host to one of the big shows in an act fraught with tension and bad blood. Johnny Carson had Joan Rivers tapped as his successor – she had been very well-received as his permanent late-night replacement – and when she was offered her own program, Carson banned her from his show and refused to speak to her until the day he died. She would not return to The Tonight Show until just this year, when new host Jimmy Fallon welcomed her on. Rivers was not the only bridge burned; when Carson finally retired, Letterman was snubbed for that post, leading to long-standing bad blood between Letterman and Leno. In more recent years, who could possibly forget the Conan O’Brien debacle; NBC gave O’Brien the tonight show and retired Leno… only to un-retire him and let O’Brien go after barely giving him a shot at having The Tonight Show. O’Brien had been with the network for decades, and just like that NBC ruined that relationship to bring Leno back, only to retire him again a couple years later and install Fallon in his post.
Examples like these are why passing the late-night mantle can be incredibly rough, which is why the media began speculating who would be the ones fighting a vicious battle for Letterman’s throne… which is what made the immediate, simple announcement that The Colbert Report host and comedian Stephen Colbert would be taking the job surprising yet refreshing. It was over almost immediately. CBS claimed that he was their pick and that it was a completely uncomplicated process.
This claim is what makes the news about Harris all the more surprising. While being interviewed by Howard Stern on his radio show, the actor confessed that CBS had contacted him about possibly taking over Letterman’s show. CBS already had a close relationship with the sitcom veteran – he just finished a nine year run on the network’s hit comedy How I Met Your Mother, and Harris’s performance both provided him with critical acclaim as well as multiple award nominations. The former Doogie Howser, M.D. star admitted that the idea of a commitment that long-running combined with the rigid format of a late night interview show made him decline the offer. He admitted, however, that he would be more open to something more akin to a late night variety show. So fans should not be discouraged; they may be seeing The Neil Patrick Harris Show after all.
Commentary by Alex Warheit