With Stephen Colbert, CBS Makes the Perfect Choice

With Stephen Colbert, CBS Makes the

Skeptics will wonder how long CBS had Stephen Colbert in its back pocket, given how smoothly the baton pass worked out. But whatever the back story, the network has found the perfect choice to replace David Letterman, in a coup that could potentially reset the latenight race to a scenario much like the one that existed for years between Letterman and Jay Leno.

Anyone fretting about Colbert’s ability to hold down an hour or step out of the self-absorbed conservative talkshow host persona he’s affected on “The Colbert Report” clearly hasn’t been paying attention to the obvious, which is Colbert’s gift for improvising in that character is virtually unmatched. (Sacha Baron Cohen would be a close cousin, but it’s a different vibe.)

Those talents should serve him extraordinarily well in creating the show at the desk – the area where Letterman (and before that Johnny Carson) traditionally outshone Leno, and a skill all hosts must rely upon on those nights when the writing simply isn’t there.

POLL: Which ‘Daily Show’ Correspondent Should Replace Stephen Colbert?

By landing Colbert, CBS has almost instantly established its new franchise as the likely critical darling and prestige player in latenight. And while those might sound like intangible qualities, the respect of the community was certainly helpful in continuing to book top guests and stay in the thick of the conversation even when Letterman was the clear No. 2 in the ratings.

Colbert’s talent at playfully bantering with guests – again, as quick as anyone in recent memory – also reflects a contrast with Jimmy Fallon, who despite his knack for musical parodies and viral videos can at times be cloying or empty in the interview format. So even if “The Tonight Show” begins with a head start ratings-wise, there would seem to be ample opportunity for Colbert to carve out a healthy niche, especially on the more expansive stage CBS provides.

If NBC has been slapping high fives about Fallon’s start, legitimately so, there should still be caution regarding how well he’s going to wear, and what Colbert injects into the latenight derby.

SEE ALSO: What David Letterman Did That Will Never Be Done Again

Perhaps most intriguingly, the Colbert casting could bring latenight in a roundabout way back to where it was: With NBC claiming the slightly broader and more vanilla show, while CBS can boast the coolest kid on the block (and not incidentally, a built-in winner for when it has events like the Emmys in need of an emcee). That leaves ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel as something of the wild card, falling somewhere between the two, but clearly short of the cachet Colbert enjoys.

Finally, one inevitable point about politics: Some conservatives will no doubt grouse about CBS tapping an obvious liberal, especially after Letterman outraged them by turning George W. Bush and Sarah Palin into punching bags. (Never mind all the years he spent skewering Clinton; in recent years Letterman chose sides in a much more overt way than Leno ever did.)

Yet given the modest ratings we’re talking about on a night-in, night-out basis, no host has to be all things to all people – and the menu of A-list conservative comedians, frankly, is hardly glutted with options. Besides, if Colbert can expand on his Comedy Central base, the fact Fox News’ Tucker Carlson doesn’t like him won’t prevent him and CBS from enjoying a long and prosperous run.

SEE ALSO: David Letterman Follows Johnny’s Playbook Until the End

Latenight succession is always a dicey proposition. There are invariably concerns hosts from cable or even the 12:30 slot (hello, Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson) will be too quirky and narrow to thrive if they’re promoted.

But even if the last letter of Colbert’s name is silent, taking all those factors into account, CBS at least appears to have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s.

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  1. LordEd says:

    excellent choice, he is the best and most refreshing nighttime show since Johnny Carson.
    whoever picked Steve Colbert, thank you,.

  2. barb says:

    Perfect choice…..he’ll be great I’m sure. By the way, Colbert and Stewart don’t trivialize important issues…their show is satire, but surely you knew that. If you didn’t , maybe Arsenio Hall is for you….Fallon may be too deep.

  3. Connie Colvin says:

    I cannot stand Colbert, and not for the politics, he and Stewart trivialize important issues, and their viewers do nothing about anything. I just do not like him and never will watch. Sad about losing Dave and will miss him very much. Don’t like Handler either. Guess I will watch Fallon.

  4. jhs39 says:

    If I were CBS I would seriously consider hiring Chelsea Handler for the follow up show after Stephen Colbert starts to give the network a completely fresh start. Craig Ferguson’s ratings have been on a downward spiral the last few years. I can’t see any reason to stick with him after Letterman is gone.

    • Tania says:

      Chelsea Handler would be a lousy choice. The woman lacks talent. She should just go away.

      • LordEd says:

        exactly, she is so offensive.

      • KWK says:

        Chelsea Handler in the 12:30 spot following Colbert? Terrific idea!! She’d need to lose those (primarily lame-o) stand-ups she currently banters with, and re-fashion her format. But I think she’s occasionally hilarious, refreshingly cynical, and puts her own inimitable stamp on pop cultural matters of the day. Ferguson – and that idiotic and frankly gruesome-looking robot skeleton sidekick or whatever it is – are frankly becoming a tired bore.

      • jhs39 says:

        Chelsea Handler would be a fresh voice, which is what CBS needs. Craig Fergusen would be much better served getting another sitcom.

  5. K. D. says:

    Interesting too, how Les Moonves named the guy fast, avoiding all the calamity and PR disasters that not one, but two NBC regimes stumbled over like bozos.

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