As Colbert moves to CBS gig, he’ll ditch the blowhard mask
Stephen Colbert became the immediate front-runner for the position because of an increasing recognition of his talent — his show won two Emmy Awards last year — and because he clearly wanted the job.
The New York Times
In a swift decision, CBS chose Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as the host of its late-night franchise, which Letterman created when he arrived at the network in 1993.
The network made the announcement Thursday, one week after Letterman said he would be leaving the “Late Show With David Letterman” in 2015.
Colbert, star of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” will be — in one way — a new talent for CBS, because he will drop the broadly satirical blowhard conservative character he has played for nine years, and instead perform as himself.
Colbert became the immediate front-runner for the position because of an increasing recognition of his talent — his show won two Emmy Awards last year — and because he clearly wanted the job. His representation had ensured that he would be available to CBS by syncing his recent contracts with Letterman’s. By late Thursday, there was no statement about what Colbert’s deal was worth.
His current deal with Comedy Central will expire at the end of this year. In a statement Thursday, he said: “I won’t be doing the new show in character, so we’ll all get to find out how much of him was me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Colbert, 49, had been subtly shifting away from the character in recent years, especially in on-air interviews. People close to him said he had for some time believed he would soon have to move beyond the satirical Colbert character, though not from the name. He has used the French pronunciation of Colbert (Cole-BEAR, rather than COLE-burt) during his entire career in show business.
Other creative details of the new show are undetermined, CBS executives said, including whether the show will remain in New York or relocate to Los Angeles. But several executives pointed out that Colbert has a settled family life in Montclair, N.J. Also, CBS owns the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, where Letterman has worked for the past 21 years.
Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS, who was the primary mover in getting the deal done, said the negotiations moved at a breakneck pace beginning the day Letterman announced his plans. Moonves said a “barrage of calls” immediately came in from representatives of comics seeking the job. But when Colbert’s agent, James Dixon, called to express Colbert’s interest, the talks quickly became serious.
The five-year deal was not difficult to conclude, Moonves said, because both sides were equally interested. But he said Colbert had one special request: “He said, ‘I want to be sure Dave is on board.’ ” Moonves said he had already decided that “it was essential to me to get Dave’s blessing.”
In a statement, Letterman said: “Stephen has always been a real friend to me. 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 made a name by pushing the edges of political satire, at times enraging voices on the right with his bumptious rendering of conservative positions.
Colbert has demonstrated he can do more than political satire. He won a Grammy Award for his musical Christmas special, “A Colbert Christmas,” in 2009, and starred as Harry in a 2011 production of “Company” by the New York Philharmonic. His Comedy Central show has won three Emmy Awards for best writing for a variety show and two Peabody Awards.
He has been comfortable as a product pitchman on his show, integrating products ranging from Halls cough drops to Budweiser beer. Occasionally, he has segments that parody the conventions of late-night TV; frequently those segments involve Doritos.
He recently became a pitchman in real commercials, for Wonderful pistachios. The first two commercials were shown in February during the Super Bowl.
The selection of Colbert will most likely push several rows of dominoes into action in late night. Comedy Central will need a host for its 11:31 p.m. show. The cable channel has recently added a number of hit shows with new performers, some of whom — Daniel Tosh, the team of Kegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Chris Hardwick and Amy Schumer — could contend for Colbert’s old post.
Schumer could quell some of the criticism of late-night shows being too much a male preserve, just as Key and Peele might answer critics who charge it is too white.
CBS will face questions about its own host-in-waiting, Craig Ferguson, whose contract concludes at the end of this year.
If Ferguson decides to leave, the network will be seeking another host for its 12:35 a.m. show.