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CBS’ ‘Late Show’ Has No Immediate Succession Plans for Chris Licht

stephen colbert
Courtesy of CBS Studios

The showrunner is leaving, but the show must go on.

Staffers at CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” aren’t sure who the next top producer will be at the program, according to three people familiar with the matter, with top producers ready to take their time to examine the needs of the show after the departure of Chris Licht, who has been executive producer of the late-night mainstay since 2016. Licht’s decision to take a new role as the CEO of CNN once Discovery closes its acquisition of WarnerMedia leaked this weekend, well before the executive was able to formally inform George Cheeks, CEO of Paramount Global’s CBS operations, or Shari Redstone, chairman of the company, according to one of these people.

“Late Show” staffers were informed of Licht’s decision on Saturday afternoon, after many press reports had confirmed Discovery’s plans. A “Late Show” spokesperson declined to comment and CBS declined to make executives available for comment.

Licht’s tenure at Colbert’s program has been marked by stability. NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” has cycled through a few producers during that time. NBC put former  news and sports executive Jim Bell in 2018 after a trio of comedy veterans — Mike DiCenzo,  Katie Hockmeyer and Gerard Bradford — ran things for a few years. Bell departed the program in 2019, citing a desire to pursue other ventures, and was replaced temporarily by Gavin Purcell before Jamie Granet-Bederman was elevated to the role in 2020.  Jimmy Kimmel’s ABC program had the same executive producer, Jill Leiderman, for 14 years. Her replacement, Sharon Hoffman, joined the program in May of 2020, but left in January of last year.

One potential candidate to succeed Licht at “Late Show” is Denise Rehrig, a co-executive producer at the show who is said to handle a good chunk of the work Licht oversees. Rehrig joined “The Late Show” as senior supervising producer in June of 2016. She spent eight years as senior broadcast producer for “Good Morning America.” Before joining the news program, she spent eight years producing for CNBC. She started her career working in local news in Columbia, Mo. The news cycle has played a prominent role at “Late Show,” where host Colbert has developed an expertise in interviews with prominent newsmakers as well as comedic monologues analyzing the day’s events.

Of course, Colbert has long played a significant role in the inner workings of the program and has a veteran team around him. When he starred in Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” Colbert was essentially the program’s showrunner, and he has been known to get involved with many facets of production. Two longtime associates — Tom Purcell, who has worked with Colbert for nearly two decades, and Jon Stewart, the legendary “Daily Show” host — are also executive producers on the CBS late-night series.

Licht won’t wrap his tenure on the program for another few weeks, when his contract with CBS is expected to come to an end.