It was just announced today that Stephen Colbert will be taking over for David Letterman as host of CBS’s Late Show. While Colbert was the early odds on favorite for the hosting gig once Letterman announced his retirement last week. I couldn’t help but meet that announcement with a huge reaction of “Meh.” Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly summed it up for me as a rather unsurprising pick. But then again Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter says the pick couldn’t be more inspired or better transitioned. Okay Tim, all I have to say to that is be careful what you wish for.
Don’t get me wrong I love Stephen Colbert as a performer, he’s actually a very good actor, with a sensational delivery who can add punch to any zinger especially those one liners that focus on his specialty: current events with a political twist. But the problem for me accepting this is hire is that right now all we know of Colbert is that is he a performer and not a traditional comedian, he’s an actual actor with chops, believe it or not I’ve seen him on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent a few years back and he was hamming it up before he really blew up on Comedy Central. We don’t really know how he will fair once he’s out of his “conservative character.” He may become the normal traditional talk show host. Who’s looking forward to that? I have a distinctive feeling he’s not going to be as critical and inquisitive to his guests as he is currently on his show on Comedy Central show. He may be forced to suck up to his guests just like everyone else currently does in late night just to please the suits at CBS.
Perhaps I’m just overanalyzing this, since he is an actor, Colbert will no doubt do skits and will feel free to ham it up galore without any self-awareness. This could go either one of two ways, he’ll hit it out of the ballpark with skit after skit showing his range or he’ll mellow out and become as bland as Jay Leno when he took over the Tonight Show back in 1992. Either way we’re in for something unexpected. And the timeline of Colbert’s contract at Comedy Central clearly implied he was waiting for Letterman to retire after his own one year extension at CBS. The hiring of Colbert also raises the question of how he’ll appeal to younger viewers. His show on Comedy Central appeals to younger males which no doubt makes CBS anticipating big numbers. But right now it’s a fight between the two Jimmy’s: Fallon and Kimmel over who has the most viral buzz and best moments that have people, especially younger people, talking over the water cooler the next morning. Whether or not Colbert can join the social media conversation outside of his “character” remains a question that David Bloom at Deadline Hollywood posted and has serious repercussions in this online media world.
Another reason for trepidation comes from Valby at EW, who brings up the point that she was unpleasantly surprised by the pick because CBS wasn’t thinking outside the box enough by not picking a woman or minority for the hosting gig. She feels someone like Amy Sedaris or Amy Schumer would have been perfect for the job. I do find that reasoning a bit disingenuous because let’s face it CBS wasn’t even considering a woman or minority candidate for this important position. By previous evidence alone, CBS has never been the first place that you would find the most innovation programming decisions. Think back to 2004 when they had a chance to replace Craig Kilborn as the host of The Late Late Show, D.L. Hughley impressed everyone from his tryout that many a comedian and actor was after. But who did they hire after multiple tryouts? Longshot Irishman Craig Ferguson of “The Drew Carey Show” fame, who was not as well known at the time and not as well reviewed during his tryout. CBS took the safest route possible and now may have another problem on replacing Ferguson in the 12:35am slot since he didn’t get the job he’s thought was rightfully his at 11:35pm.
But that’s looking too far in advance. Right now there are a lot of unanswered questions. All we know is Colbert’s writing crew will be going with him and he will get to keep the “Late Show” title. Everything else is up in the air from the venue to production staff since Letterman’s production company Worldwide Pants owns both the name and concept of Late Show and The Late Late Show due to the deal that CBS made to lure Letterman to their network in the first place back in 1994. Colbert is not spring chicken himself, in fact he turns fifty this year, although his age and youthful looks not withstanding he could have a very productive Late Show career that could last as many as fifteen years. Will Colbert have another long and productive career in prime time with more corporate pressure behind him? More than likely he will. Will he make television history with his own slice of primetime broadcast immortality. The odds lean towards yes, but realistically only time will tell on that front. Colbert will have a highly anticipated launch with viewers that will no doubt initially push him to number one in the rankings. Whether or not he can keep them and our interest over the long run remains the biggest question of all.