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The Replacements: Backstabbings, Coups, and Rebrands in Late-Night TV

Trevor Noah can finally stop counting down the days: September 28th was the day of days (or "night of nights") for the South African comedian. Noah faced the daunting task of taking over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart, who captained the comedic commentary series for 15 years.

Noah, recognizing the challenge ahead, has promised to offer fans something more than a mere imitation of Stewart's show. He began his tenure with sentimental irreverence, thanking Jon Stewart for giving him this opportunity, and taking potshots at himself - including his South-African heritage. In his monologue, he said Comedy Central originally offered the chair to Americans, but they refused: "So once more, a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant."

Check it out:

In honor of the occasion, we've put together a list of other famous attempts to rebrand, revamp, rival or usurp late-night shows.

The First Late-Night War

Before Letterman and Leno fought bitterly over who would inherit Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" throne, the most famous late-night feud starred Carson and his protégé Joan Rivers.

In 1983, the famous late-night show was being challenged by the upstart Thicke of the Night (starring Alan Thicke). To shore up ratings, NBC signed the popular Rivers as Carson's permanent guest host, which fuelled speculation that she would eventually replace Carson.

Rivers quashed those rumors in 1985, when she told reporters that NBC had compiled a list of Carson's successors, but she wasn't on it. A year later, Rivers went rogue, signing with FOX to host her own program (The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers) in direct competition with her mentor.

In 1987, Fox released Rivers from the show and replaced her with Arsenio Hall.

Lorne Michaels SNL Bow-Out

Saturday Night Live Executive Producer Lorne Michaels launched the now-iconic sketch comedy show with Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner in 1975.

But Jean Doumanian took over the show when he decided to leave along with the original cast ahead of the 1980-81 season.

The result? A 13-episode fiasco of a season that nearly destroyed the show. Despite this, SNL has somehow managed to survive, and even thrive, for 40 seasons and counting.

Here's the lineup for the SNL reboot:

The lowlight of that disastrous season was the mistreatment of Eddie Murphy, whom Doumanian didn't want on the show, and later tried to keep from the limelight - even when the series struggled to regain audience interest.

The Carson Succession Crisis

Possibly the biggest fight in late-night history began in 1992. As the host of the Late Night with David Letterman, which followed "The Tonight Show", Letterman looked like Carson's heir apparent. But Jay Leno, who sat in Joan Rivers' spot as permanent guest host, managed a coup.

Letterman, however, didn't ride into the sunset. Instead, he set up shop across the street headlining "The Late Show" on CBS, which incited a longstanding ratings war between the two rivals.

The feud itself became a pop culture phenomenon, spawning two books ( The Late Shift and The War for Late Night) and a made-for-TV movie.

The Other Daily Show

For 15 years, "The Daily Show" has been synonymous with Jon Stewart. But it wasn't always that way.

Stewart was actually a replacement for Craig Kilborn, who manned the show from its debut in 1996 until 1998, when he left to take over the desk at "The Late Late Showfrom Tom Snyder".

Stewart made his mark by taking a lighter, goofier show and steering it toward weighty political issues and biting satire.

Here's a comparison of the two hosts' "Daily Show" styles, featuring each regime's final episode:

Stephen Colbert Version 2.0

The rebranding of "The Daily Show" under Stewart's tenure was nothing compared to the challenge faced by Stewart's former collaborator, Stephen Colbert, who has reworked his public persona as Letterman's replacement on "The Late Show".

Colbert's former schtick - a caricature of right-wing partisan hacks featured on FOX News and CNN - made him famous. Perhaps too famous. He's only in the first month of his rebrand as Letterman's replacement, so only time will tell if viewers warm to the reinvention of the pop culture star, who is currently in a ratings war with Jimmy Fallon, Leno's successor, as well as Jimmy Kimmel.

Here's a glimpse of the rebranded Colbert:

What's your favourite late-night rebrand, takeover, or coup? Let us know in the comments!

h/t AV Club, Slate


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