Stephen Colbert has been named to succeed David Letterman as host of Late Show, CBS announced Thursday.
The host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report has signed a five-year deal to join CBS' late-night talker, which founding host Letterman announced last week he would retire from in 2015. The date of Colbert’s first episode will be determined after Letterman settles on a timetable for his departure.
The producers and location for Colbert’s Late Show will be announced at a later date.
“Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO, CBS Corp. “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.”
Colbert has served since 2005 as host of The Colbert Report, recipient of two Peabody Awards and 27 Emmy nominations. He had previously spent eight years as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” said Colbert. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”
Colbert’s early comedic work included the Comedy Central series Exit 57 and Strangers With Candy, both co-created with fellow Second City alums Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and turns writing for Saturday Night Live and The Dana Carvey Show.
Speculation regarding who would take over as Late Show host coalesced quickly around Colbert after Letterman made a surprise announcement during the taping of his April 3 show, saying he would retire some time in 2015. No date has yet been set for his final show.
Letterman was part of the process that led to Colbert being named as his replacement, and gave the new host his blessing.
“Stephen has always been a real friend to me,” Letteman said. “I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”
Colbert has been lauded for his performance on The Colbert Report, where he has employed a faux persona as a right-wing polemicist. That approach has worked wonderfully for a show that satirizes politics and media, but won’t be used by Colbert at CBS, where his show is expected to focus more on entertainment and fit the mold of a traditional network late-night talker. Given his training and strong comedic background, many expect Colbert to flourish when released from the constraints of his adopted persona.
“I think he’ll do fine,” said Andrew Alexander, CEO and co-owner of the Second City, where Colbert performed alongside Steve Carell, Nia Vardalos, and Ian Gomez. “In a sense, it’s a nod to the camera, that character, so you’re getting a sense of who Stephen Colbert really is with that character.” Colbert has already proven himself capable conducting late-night interviews “in a more confined way” Alexander added, saying, “Now he’ll be opened up to be even better at it.”
Colbert’s coronation will not end the speculation around late night. Craig Ferguson, whose The Late Late Show follows Letterman at 12:35 a.m. and is produced by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Inc., will see his contract run out before the end of the year. Ferguson has routinely finished second in the ratings to NBC’s new Late Night host Seth Meyers. For the week of March 31-April 4, Late Night out-rated The Late Late Show among viewers 18-49 by a 51% margin.
In an interview with B&C, CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler said, “We’ll focus on 12:30 later, but right now the focus is on 11:30.”
Meanwhile, Comedy Central will be looking to fill Colbert’s time slot, with no obvious top candidate in place. Former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, who filled in for host Jon Stewart last year, will debut his new show Last Week Tonight April 27 on HBO. Comedy Central has demonstrated faith in comedian Chris Hardwick, whose show @midnight follows Colbert and was given a 40 week pick-up in November following a four-week test run.
Comedian Chelsea Handler has been vocal about wanting to pursue new opportunities when her contract with E! for late-night talker Chelsea Lately expires at the end of the year. In an interview in March with radio host Howard Stern, Handler called E! “a sad, sad place to live.”