In recent years, the late night talk show has given way to an avalanche of reruns and trash TV dotting the midnight landscape, making the late night chatfest in itself underrated.
Of course, there are still plenty of these shows to be found around the dial, especially on ABC, NBC and CBS (FOX apparently is still too shell-shocked from "The Chevy Chase
Show" to attempt reentry into the fray). There are other spots where these shows can be found thanks to the advent of cable and satellite television leaving enough of a selection for viewers of divergent tastes to find the host they like the best.
Because chat shows typically cover the same ground, it is that host that really defines each show. There may be a different set, group of writers, and recurring sketches, but it is the master of ceremonies that sets late night shows apart from one another.
As with anything in pop culture, some of these hosts get more credit than they deserve while others are doing great work in relative obscurity. So who's who? A quick trip down the list of the most underrated and overrated late night talk show hosts on the air right now will answer that simple question.Most Underrated:
5. Chris Rock
How underrated is Rock? He doesn't even have a talk show! Despite being the best equipped man on the planet to helm a late-night talker, the networks continue to fill their vacancies with people like Jimmy Kimmel
. Rock clearly has the comedy chops and his late-90's HBO series showed he could handle and interview as well as anyone. It could be that networks are wary of his decidedly blue act, but wouldn't that work perfectly with the "FOX Attitude"? Rock isn't much of an actor and he is certainly a horrible director. Will somebody please give him a talk show so his talents finally have a chance to flourish?
4. Greg Gutfeld
- "Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld" (Fox News Channel, 3ET, 12PT)
It's not surprising that Gutfeld is so underrated: his show doesn't come on until 3 a.m. on the East Coast. Insomniacs are treated to quite a delight if they happen upon Gutfeld and his merry band of pranksters during the wee hours of the morning. "Red Eye" masquerades as a news show, but it's really more of a comedy radio show on the airwaves as the host's rotating panel of guests helps him humorously eviscerate the day's top stories. The real treat is the way Gutfeld introduces each story and guest with a never-ending bag of double entendres and a brand of vulgar self-effacing humor that is totally unique to the former Maxim editor. "Red Eye" is certainly worth the wait in the Eastern Time Zone and should be a staple for West Coast viewers.
3. Chelsea Handler
- "Chelsea Lately" (E!, 11:30)
The world of late night talk is a notorious boys club. The only woman to ever break through for a significant amount of time was Joan Rivers
, who was subsequently black-balled by Johnny Carson
for, ya know, wanting to further her career.
The only female currently inhabiting the dark world of late night is Handler, who hosts a celebrity-themed show with complete underrated aplomb. When you're the only female among a pack of males, it's easy to be underrated in spite of the fact that Handler remains the most joyously vicious of any late night talker with her hilarious eviscerations of gossip-page mainstays. She's like your friend who badmouths the rest of your friends behind their backs, and even though everybody knows she does it, they still like her anyway.
2. Bill Maher
- "Real Time with Bill Maher" (HBO, Fridays at 11:00)
Yes, Bill Maher is still on the air. Yes, he's still on the verge of being the craziest man in the world. Yes, he continues to be absolutely hilarious. It's not hard to be underrated when you choose smart political humor over reading misprints from local newspapers. It's also easy to be underrated when you find yourself banished to HBO several years ago for being too controversial. Maher continues to be the host who makes the show the most about himself and the least about the guests. This is a good choice because Maher is impossible to ignore. He oozes controversy and smugness and never shies away from backing some of his more ludicrous stances. David Letterman
may have the funniest show and Jay Leno
gets the best guests, but Maher is hardest host to take your eyes off of.
1. Craig Ferguson
- "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" (CBS, 12:35)
Aren't late night talk show hosts supposed to be funny? Well there isn't a funnier man on the air than Craig Ferguson. His abstract rambles to open each show are a thing of surreal sublimity and his even more bizarre sketches (see "Michael Caine in Space") raise the show to new heights of absurdity. What it all comes down to is how naturally funny Ferguson is. Be it during interviews, his monologues, desk chats, or any other part of the show, audiences are never more than one bizarre turn away from a hilarious one-liner. Ferguson remains underrated because he is the lowest-rated host on a major network (although he has started to outdraw Conan on some nights) and that ubiquitous Scottish brogue undoubtedly turns off viewers. Despite all this, the fact remains that Craig Ferguson is the funniest host of a talk show. He doesn't host the funniest show, but there isn't another host on the air who can compete with him for just pure natural hilarity.