CBS’ Dream Letterman Replacement: Stephen Colbert (and he IS interested)

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Now that the great David Letterman has announced that he intends to retire from Late Show as soon as next year, Mashable reports that CBS has a dream replacement: Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. And that Colbert is indeed interested:

Stephen Colbert is CBS’ top choice to replace the retiring David Letterman, and has indicated that he’s willing to take over the Late Show when the time comes, people familiar with both sides of the discussions tell Mashable.

Colbert has not had any formal contract discussions with CBS, and no agreement is in place, but sources tell Mashable that he first engaged with network executives while Letterman was still mulling the timing of his retirement. Though CBS has had conversations with other candidates, including Colbert’s Comedy Central counterpart Jon Stewart, individuals with knowledge of the situation say Colbert is currently the front-and-center candidate.

A CBS spokesman told Mashable: “We’re not commenting on any rumors or speculation about succession.” Comedy Central had no comment.

Which means a)they’re not commenting, and b)it’s likely true since CBS would want someone for the slot like Letterman was when they set up him to compete with Jay Leno: someone considered a top cutting-edge TV comedian at the top of his game. And the timing sounds quite good. Mashable again:

Colbert’s contract to host The Colbert Report on Comedy Central runs through the end of 2014, which would free him up in time to move over to CBS when Letterman ends his 33-year run in late-night TV. Letterman left the exact date of his departure vague while announcing his retirement plans on Thursday.

“We don’t have the timing of this precisely down; it will be at least a year or so,” Letterman said on Thursday’s episode of the Late Show. “But at some time in the not-too-distant future — 2015, for the love of God.”

And, yes, it is most assuredly a generational shift, which isn’t inherently good or bad. Letterman and Leno are Babyboomers who were raised on 1950s TV and who spent some time in comedy clubs (Leno was more of a creature of the clubs than Letterman).

NBC’s Jimmy Kimmel is 46. Colbert is 49. It a different era of imprinting, whether the comedy club scene or the TV scene. The Johnny Carsons, the Dick Cavetts, the Merv Griffins, all gave way to Baby Boomers — who are now giving way to a generation raised with a different kind of comedy, linked into the Internet. It’s a generation that has spent much of their lives during a transitional period where entertainment media went from general interest and broadcasting to niche and narrow-casting.

Colbert is a huge talent and a superb interviewer. He’d give the CBS franchise a run for its money, as Letterman would leave late night with his well-deserved legend intact.

OTHER REACTION:
Mediaite:

A shift to a more straightforward late night talk show format would give Colbert a chance to leave his alter ego behind, something that must be attractive to him at least on some level. After all, as brilliantly funny as “Stephen Colbert” is, can he really go on playing someone else for the rest of his career?

--Gawker:

Questions still left to resolve: Whether Colbert wants to make the jump to network TV, whether Comedy Central wants to get into a bidding war with CBS to keep him, and which Stephen Colbert the network wants to hire.

The Washington Post:

Who should replace Letterman? Rumors fly — and quickly flocked Friday to the enormously talented host of “The Colbert Report,” comedian Stephen Colbert, 49, who since 2005 has kept aloft a neocon news shtick long past the George W. Bush era it was meant to lampoon. “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” is admittedly a tantalizing and easily envisioned idea, in which the Colbert Report persona would be ditched in favor of a disarmingly funny late-night host.

The New York Times:

Mr. Colbert has been aware of the coming change at CBS for some time. His last few contracts at Comedy Central have been structured to match up with Mr. Letterman’s at CBS, according to a person with knowledge of the deals who said he was not authorized to speak publicly about them. His current contract runs out at the end of this year, which would free him to negotiate with CBS at just the right time.

One executive involved in past late-night negotiations at several networks, who declined to be identified because of the delicacy of the discussions, said that Mr. Colbert has been on CBS’s short list for some time. Mr. Colbert is also about to turn 50, which means the time to make a career move is probably now.

The Huffington Post:

Mashable notes that if Colbert were to take over Letterman’s — or any late night show on a network — that he would change his schtick. He would have to drop the conservative persona that recently landed him in hot water (#CancelColbert, anybody?).













         

4 Comments

  1. Well, it would be interesting. Maybe he would bring a new format to late night. It sure needs it.
    That he is funny, talented and charming goes without saying.

  2. I really like Colbert, but if the network really wants to carry on with the Letterman legacy, they’ve got their new host in house.

    In addition to already working for Dave’s “Worldwide Pants” company, Craig Ferguson has – like early Letterman – a show that pokes fun at the very concept of the late night talk show. Dave had “Stupid Pet Tricks.” Craig has a robot skeleton sidekick and a pantomime horse. Dave has the Top Ten. Craig has Tweets and Emails. The absurdity is inherent in both shows.

    Yet the other thing Ferguson has going for him is that he is hands down the best interviewer in late night television. His interview with Desmond Tutu was incredible. His hour long conversation with Stephen Fry was amazing. At the beginning of every interview he makes a point of taking the “prepared questions” and ripping them to shreds. What follows (for the most part…he’s not perfect) is not an interview where the guest knows the questions and dutifully plugs their latest project, but an actual conversation between two people.

    I’d love to see that an hour earlier.

  3. There is no way Colbert would be as good on Late Show as he is on his own show. So I agree with CJ, Ferguson would be a good replacement for Letterman. That is, UNLESS, CBS is willing to allow Colbert Report style of satire, but I doubt they’re willing to.

  4. That would certainly formalize the tongue in cheek rivalry between Colbert and Fallon. As long as Colbert stays on the air, and I can watch his show on teh internets, I wish him the best of luck.

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