NEW YORK — Stephen Colbert — the supremely gifted host of “The Colbert Report” who has made a career of satirically channeling Bill O’Reilly — has been named host of “The Late Show.” He will replace David Letterman when the latter retires next year, probably in May.
Letterman said in a statement, “Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”
Colbert was expected. But this quick an announcement was not. Clearly CBS wanted to get the speculation behind it and begin laying the groundwork for the transition as as soon as possible.
Of immediate concern for New Yorkers: CBS did not announce a venue, and the network long ago wanted Dave to go west. Will the same pressure be brought to bear on Colbert? Reasons for a westward move are many, but the studio space in California (at TV City) is vast. But a New York venue makes sense too. First of all, there is the Ed Sullivan Theater — a baton hand-off from from one of the great hosts in TV history to his replacement would have immense appeal. Second, the city’s energy has been a boon for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — which has simply fed off it. Another factor in favor of NYC: If Colbert brings his staff, as he almost certainly will, a cross-country move for dozens and dozens of critical staff members is difficult. It is certainly not insurmountable: Conan O’Brien did it, after all.
Reasons for this quick announcement — Letterman announced that he was ending his 32 years in late night just a week ago — are obvious. Colbert’s deal with Comedy Central — where he will remain the next eight months — was nearly over, and both he and CBS had made their mutual interest known. Moreover, this ends speculation — will Tina Fey replace Dave? Neil Patrick Harris? — all of which tends to be distracting, especially when unfounded.
CBS’s upfront announcement to advertisers also falls next month — and this question would certainly have come.
But here’s the key reason: These transitions take time — time for the hosts to get used to the idea, time for viewers and fans. Colbert’s transition is somewhat tricky: After all, he must morph out of, to a certain degree anyway, his current persona. He must assemble a staff — although undoubtedly he will bring his crew from Comedy Central.
Then there are the other particulars: The aforementioned venue? Will there be a band? A sidekick? All those elements that seem set in stone — except that they are not.
And how will Colbert change his persona? That is hardly a major issue. It is not even an “issue” — but a silly distraction that the press and other observers seemed to take seriously for a time.
Meanwhile, CBS suddenly has a 12:35 a.m. ET problem. Craig Ferguson will almost certainly leave “Late Late Show,” which means CBS’ work is far from over.
“Stephen is a multi-talented and respected host, writer, producer, satirist and comedian who blazes a trail of thought-provoking conversation, humor and innovation with everything he touches,” said CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler. “He is a presence on every stage, with interests and notable accomplishments across a wide spectrum of entertainment, politics, publishing and music. We welcome Stephen to CBS with great pride and excitement, and look forward to introducing him to our network television viewers in late night.”