If the general managers at CBS affiliates are concerned about David Letterman stepping off the Late Show stage, they’re keeping those feelings to themselves. The affiliates seem genuinely enthused with the network’s choice of Stephen Colbert to fill the late night icon’s seat, and ones contacted by B&C believe the transition—not always a smooth one in the wild world of late night TV—will be seamless.
“I think it’s a terrific move,” says Steve Hammel, WRAL Raleigh-Durham VP and general manager. “He brings youth and energy and creativity to the screen. I think we won’t miss a beat with the move from Letterman, who I love, to Colbert.”
Colbert has hosted The Colbert Report on Comedy Central since 2005, but will drop his blowhard cable-news pundit persona in favor of a more genuine version of himself.
Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, moved quickly on the succession plan. Affiliates mostly heard of the move a few hours before the announcement was made public. Letterman’s retirement was discussed when the CBS affiliates board met with the network April 8 in Las Vegas, though replacements were not discussed, said Chris Cornelius affiliates board chairman. “You hate to see a legacy guy like that go,” said Cornelius after the meeting, “but there’s a time and place for those changes.”
Letterman may not have had the warm personal relationship with affiliates that Jay Leno worked hard to cultivate, but CBS affiliates who spoke with B&C offered nothing but respect and genuine affection for the iconic host, who has set his retirement for next year. “He’s been so good for so long,” says Klarn DePalma, WFSB Hartford-New Haven VP and general manager. “I’m sad to see him go.”
DePalma feels Colbert and his varied resume, which includes success as a stage performer, writer and emcee, will serve him well in his new position. “He’s funny, he’s talented, he knows that game,” says DePalma. “I think it’s a great choice."
Colbert will play exceptionally well in his hometown of Charleston. Rita Scott, WCSC Charleston VP and general manager, calls Colbert “one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in my life.”
Even putting aside her geographical bias, she figures Colbert is well suited for his new role. “I can’t think of anyone better to replace Letterman,” she says.
While affiliates are more concerned with their local content than the network’s late show, they’re relieved to have one bit of schedule uncertainty sewn up. “I think it makes late night very interesting, to say the least,” says DePalma. “Competition makes everyone better.”