Stephen Colbert to Replace David Letterman on ‘Late Show’

Stephen Colbert

CBS named Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as host of “The Late Show,” handing the reins of its flagship latenight program to a cable host who has found success in attracting young male viewers by playing a character, rather than himself.

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

The decision comes about a week after Letterman announced during a taping of his program that he would retire from the program – and the longest tenure as a latenight host on broadcast TV – sometime in 2015. In doing so, Letterman will turn the time period over to an entirely new generation of hosts, severing TV’s last link to the days when Johnny Carson dominated the daypart. These days, latenight is a splintered environment, with three broadcast programs as well as wee-hours bastions in place on Viacom’s Comedy Central, Time Warner’s TBS and NBCUniversal’s Bravo and E!

When Colbert sits behind the desk of the CBS program, as he is set to do at a currently undetermined date in 2015, he will likely do it with a new presentation –  not as the right-wing caricature he plays in his current perch on Comedy Central. CBS said creative elements, producers and even the location of the show will be announced at a later date. “He is not going to play that character,” said Nina Tassler, chairman of CBS Entertainment, in an interview.

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

And yet, it is Colbert’s inventiveness CBS is likely banking on to help it gain in the ongoing late-night wars. “It has usually been our policy that when you hire the right person, you let them be creative and let them do their job,” said Tassler. “We are extremely excited about what he’s going to bring to the time slot.”

Colbert will be the Eye’s entry into a race that has already started. Both ABC and NBC have already turned their latenight programming over to younger hosts – Jimmy Kimmel for the Alphabet and Jimmy Fallon at the Peacock. Colbert will have to hit the ground running, mastering a broadcast venue that demands mainstream appeal while trying to maintain the current fan base that has made his “Colbert Report” a mainstay for the Viacom-owned network.

But his appeal to younger viewers is hard to ignore. Viewers of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” had a median age of 41.9 in the last seven weeks, according  to Nielsen. Meantime, the median age of “Tonight Show” viewers since the Jimmy Fallon-led version has launched is 53.3, while that for viewers of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel” is 55.8. Colbert will have to build his base, however: In the last seven weeks,  “Colbert Report” attracted an average of 633,000 viewers between 18 and 49, the demographic most coveted by advertisers, according to Nielsen. Fallon’s “Tonight Show” lured an average of 2 million, while “Kimmel” attracted an average of 852,000 and Letterman’s “Late Show” notched an average of 710,000.

Tassler kept any thoughts what Colbert’s “Late Show” might look like to a minimum. “It’s really important he be given the opportunity to develop and create his show,” she said.

While one might think CBS would have had conversations with various Letterman replacements prior to the current “Late Show” host’s decision last week, Tassler said CBS only reached out to Colbert once the “starting gun” of Letterman’s desire to retire was clear. “One name just stood out above the rest,” said Tassler. She cited his background in the Second City improv comedy troupe and his “extraordinary intellect” as factors in his appeal to CBS executives.

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

“Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” said Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS, in a prepared statement. “David Letterman’s legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today’s announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night.”

SEE ALSO: Top Ten Moments from the ‘Late Show With David Letterman’

“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” said Colbert in a statement. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”

In a statement, Letterman blessed the succession: “Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him,” Letterman said. “I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”

The current incarnation of “The Late Show” is owned and produced by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company, but ownership of the show and the name will be CBS’ once the transition is made, Tassler said.

She declined to speak in great detail about the potential future of Craig Ferguson, who has been holding forth at 12:37 a.m. after “The Late Show” since 2005.  CBS has been looking at its latenight schedule “one hour at a time,'” Tassler said. “We have a very good relationship with him. He’s our 12:30 guy.” She declined to comment on whether the host would stay with CBS or move on, given the Colbert decision.

According to people familiar with the situation, Ferguson’s discussions with CBS continue and he has not decided whether to stick with his show or leave. The host is supposed to tape two episodes of his show today and is likely to address the issue in the one set to air tonight, these people said. In a tweet, Ferguson congratulated Colbert and said, “Welcome to the CBS funhouse.”

Comedy Central is expected to take some time to devise a replacement for “Colbert Report,” which, given its focus on a character originated by its host, cannot continue. According to a person familar with the situation. a bevy of options are up for consideration, including creating a new program with talent from “The Daily Show,” the 11 p.m. mainstay that precedes “Colbert Report,”  giving the slot to “@midnight,” the new program hosted by Chris Hardwick recently launched at 12 a.m.; or something new entirely.

“Comedy Central is proud that the incredibly talented Stephen Colbert has been part of our family for nearly two decades,” the network said in a statement. “We look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking Colbert Report and wish Stephen the very best.”

In his perch on Comedy Central, Colbert has proven more willing to embrace advertisers than many of his peers, devoting minutes-long segments to discussions of PepsiCo’s Doritos or Mondelez International’s Wheat Thins. At the same time, he makes fun of the products, and not always in a good-natured way. Will CBS let the practice continue? “That’s a bridge we’ll cross at some later point,” said Tassler.

One question CBS will have to answer sooner rather than later: Once he’s out of character, will Colbert start to pronounce the “t” in his last name,  long silent in the title of his satirical Comedy Central show?


Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 56

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. I am so very glad that a true southern gentleman, with wit & brains will replace the great Letterman.
    I for one, will can see no other in that seat! I would love to be at the first show!

  2. Hannah says:

    A large part of me wished that they would’ve chosen Tina Fey with Amy Poehler co-hosting sometimes. I’d watch that.

  3. MRM5412 says:

    Of course not. His name, Colbert, is French. And being an intelligent person he will continue to pronounce it correctly. The silent “t” in Report is in direct play with that. What an inane question.

  4. Greygower says:

    What a mistake. Colbert has a rare voice on HIS show! You have to wonder if this is a calculated move by the corporate media to gag one of the few truth speakers out there!

  5. pw77 says:

    This won’t work without Colbert in character. What in the heck does CB S think they are buying. Keep it Liberal and funny keep Colberts “blowhard repub” alive. Again it won’t work. And isn’t he bringing his team over?

  6. Wanda Sakalla says:


    • 1. Typing in all caps makes you look like a angry 12 year old. 2. Letterman retired, they didn’t get rid of him, same with Jay Leno.

    • Fan of Both says:

      The network isn’t “getting rid of” Letterman, Wanda. He’s RETIRING. Because almost everyone does at some point. Sheesh. And Colbert isn’t going to host in character. Did you even READ the article before you started screaming at the Internet?

  7. alas says:

    Cobert isn’t funny. He’s a sweet guy, but Late Show will go straight down the tubes.
    CBS better pray that Letterman changes his mind about retirement.

  8. lola says:

    in my original choices I had not thought about Colbert at all but I like his wife, who i Found here and he does seem an obious option, we’ll see next year

  9. bb91103 says:

    I hope Sam Bee gets a shot at taking over Colbert’s slot. She is very funny.

  10. Judith says:

    He’ll be MUCH better than Fallon.

  11. R.l. Procter says:

    Heaven forbid they try and get an unknown or up and coming host to try out. I can only take small amounts of Colbert. Will just stick with Fallon. . .

  12. Donna Cobe says:

    Stephen Colbert is a great choice! I will, however, miss his character.

  13. empresstrudy says:

    This is all one of Letterman’s unfunny anti humor pranks. He’s not retiring.

  14. Morey Soffo says:

    I DVR “Colbert Report” every day, but always skip the interviews. His Confused Conservative schtick is forced and deviates from the subject of the interview, but always watch “The Wørd.” Everything else is a bit sophomoric, so it’s sad to think even this will have to be dumbed-down for the “Late Show” audience.

  15. Mike says:

    It will be like a clown entertaining without his makeup. How will Stephen the person be without his clown act?

    • carbohydrates says:

      A clown without their makeup is just a person.

      People are capable of entertaining as themselves. They do it all the time.

      It is not a large leap of logic. Stephen the person is a beautiful man. He will do great.

  16. pris says:

    Stephen Colbert was my choice to replace Jay Leno. He’s a really smart man aside from being very entertaining.

  17. Charles Hunt says:

    Can’t stand Colbert and his stupid arched eyebrow so count me out.

  18. Carol McMillan says:

    I like Stephen. I’ve watched him since the Daily Show, but he’s too snarky and not really funny enough to carry this off. He’s really not a good interviewer. He’s always into his own schtick. What ever happened to Chelsea Handler, Ellen DeGeneres and even Craig Ferguson and Geoff? Oh well Stephen welcome to the boring late night boys club.

  19. Steve says:

    One underinformed, not-very-funny liberal replacing another. Can’t be cutting edge when you agree with the establishment can it?

    I might listen to Colbert if I found him funny.

  20. Chrystin Pleasants says:

    Please tell me how to unsubscribe from these e-mails. I did not know that I was subscribing to something that was going to trash my inbox. Thank you, Chrystin Pleasants

    Chrystin Pleasants

    (214) 826-5752 office

    (214) 532-4195 cell

    When racists have the law behind them, they leave the law behind.

  21. JMG says:

    What is it that keeps us from hiring anyone but a white male? Is it fear? (No offense, Colbert. I love you.)

  22. Clayburn says:

    I would have loved to have seen Conan on NBC going head to head with Colbert on CBS.

  23. Matt says:

    Is this some kind of a joke??

  24. KWK says:

    Great news! Stephen Colbert is brilliant – he’ll bring some real wonkiness…and some real sorely-needed intellect to the late nite comedy-variety landscape.

  25. Mark Isenberg says:

    It is better than Craig or Tina as Stephen likes Broadway and will bring more folks to perform in addition to the usual movie stars and musicians.He already works for parent company Viacom via Comedy Central so it will even save a few bucks from the Worldwide Pants contract given that Mr. Letterman owns 100 percent of the Late Show which will revert back to CBS when he finally retires. Whether Craig stays with CBS is not that important as he has a game show to syndicate if a new contract can’t be agreed on. And yes,for the moment,Worldwide Pants owns most of the Late,Late Show.

  26. badlands75 says:

    Reblogged this on The Badlands and Everything After and commented:
    America will lose its sarcastic 11:30 soul. I wonder whether Stewart turned it down? Colbert will be great, but the “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!” line on the first Fallon Tonight Show is even more prescient. We will miss Baby Bear.

    • Cheech Chi says:

      Stewart pretty much owns the Daily Show & Colbert Report, exec producing both of them. they are his babies. him leaving would have left too many people, inlcuding the correspondents, in a lurch.

      • badlands75 says:

        I don’t know if I totally agree with that. Stewart is Comedy Central in a sense and already a CBS/Viacom employee. He could have transitioned easily. I think the one who gets screwed a bit is Jon Oliver (who is probably making a ton of money from HBO). He could have had Colbert’s spot, I bet. I think Samantha Bee would be great as a Colbert like character (maybe an awful Dr. Laura type?)

  27. charcramer says:

    He is the best choice by far. He appeals to all ages. This was obviously in the works for awhile. CBS said they would make an announcement very soon after Letterman did, most likely because Colbert had already signed on.

    For me, this will ease the pain of losing Dave.

  28. Deeat Direwolfe says:

    if only he had .. ya know, a bosom.

  29. Ross Stevens says:

    Problem is, nobody can see past the character he plays on his show. Fallon and Kimmel are much to “frat boy” for my taste. I suspect Colbert is going to be much more adult and laid back than the other two and will cater to both the young, hip audience he now has and older fans looking for less “cuteness” and a more Carson-like interviewer. Also, I would assume the choice of Colbert keeps the show in New York. I wonder if Jon Stewart will have his hand in as a producer. Also, does this open up a slot for John Oliver when his contract is up (or earlier) at HBO.

  30. Jason Stuart says:

    another straight white guy, its like ground hogs day. Stephen is talented but come on folks. its 2014. give some else a chance!

  31. Pure Fluff says:

    Reblogged this on Pure Fluff.

  32. Maria Moon says:

    Dang… wish I stayed up this late… may have to make an exception now!

  33. E Cheung says:

    Anyone else think CBS was a little quick on the draw? I guess they know America will need at least a year to swallow this boneheaded choice.

  34. Steve Ungrey says:

    Jimmy Fallon, here I come!

  35. E Cheung says:

    Yeah. His style is sure to work late-night.
    And we’ll all watch the fun as he starts “engaging.”
    On the plus side, he should beat Chevy Chase by at least a few weeks.

  36. Nanny Mo says:

    Interesting choice, but I see that other commentors here can only see the color of his skin, so who does that make the racist? CBS or them? Personally I find Colbert dull and predicable, which is why I won’t be watching him. The racists amongst us won’t watch him for a different reason.

  37. TheFaceOnMars says:

    Oh, joy, another late night host (Jimmy) who shouts at the audience at the top of his lungs from the beginning to the end of show. Stay off the Red Bull!!!!!!!!

  38. James says:

    Looks like the #cancelcolbert campaign was a rousing success.

  39. This is big news… & good news. I look forward to this… big time!

  40. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    YES! Colbert is a god amongst men.

  41. golden joe says:


    Internet 2014: All identity politics, All the time!

  42. Cory says:

    Really? All white straight men…. Pathetic.

  43. Cee-Man says:

    Hey, network TV! 1985 called. They want their middle-aged (or soon to be so) all-male, all-white, late-night hosts with their cool ethnic bands back.

    Stay in touch!

  44. Chicago860 says:

    Great. I get an hour of my life back every night

More TV News from Variety