Never mind Letterman. What about his band?

David Letterman's band.

The multi-million dollar question in the media world is: Who will get David Letterman’s time slot when the host steps down in 2015? An opening for a late night host also creates an opening for a band. Band leaders of successful shows are well-paid, and the increased exposure they get can open doors.

“It can enhance your chances of being successful at whatever it is that you want to do, simply because a lot of people know who you are,” says Jay Leno’s longtime band leader, Kevin Eubanks.

And for the musicians behind the band leaders, a regular spot in a late night band can be a nice change of pace from a hectic tour schedule.

Mark Garrison: When Letterman announced his retirement on the show, the on-air reaction was quick.

Band leader Paul Shaffer made a fortune playing sidekick and enduring cracks about his Canadian heritage. The exposure he got could open doors for him after the show ends.

Kevin Eubanks: It can enhance your chances of being successful at whatever it is that you want to do, simply because a lot of people know who you are now.

Kevin Eubanks was Jay Leno’s longtime band leader. Getting a slot like that isn’t easy. They just don’t come up that often.

Eubanks: Jay and I, for instance, we just got along. So sometimes it can just be something that simple. That, oh, these two people get along and that would make for good TV.

Music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz points out that it’s about more than band leaders. Behind them are working musicians trying to make a good living in a tricky industry. A job on a talk show can be a welcome break.

Bob Lefsetz: If you can get a gig on a late night show, get paid every night, sleep in your own bed, it’s very appealing.

And when you tour, you can pay bigger venues. But late night opportunities are shrinking, says Bill Carter, author of several books on late night TV.

Bill Carter: Frankly, one of the things I think you might see is a condensed band, because they have tighter budgets than they used to and the bands are expensive.

But don’t look for them to disappear. They play a vital role you don’t see on TV. Eubanks says bands are crucial for keeping the studio audience hyped up.

Eubanks: The audience has all this energy because we gave it to them during the commercials that they wanna release it, because they’re there to have a party.

And there’s now a chance for another band leader to join it. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.


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