Well that was quick.
A week after Letterman announced that he was planning to step down as the host of The Late Show on CBS in 2015, we already know who his successor will be. For once, all the rumors and speculation were actually correct; Stephen Colbert will be making the jump from his show on Comedy Central to assume the seat that Letterman is vacating. Same time slot for Colbert, but a much larger stage.
I am both tremendously excited about this news and a little bummed out about it. I love Stephen Colbert and think he is very talented, so I am glad that he is getting this promotion. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and it’s always a plus when good things happen to good people. I have no doubt that he’ll make The Late Show a fun and entertaining show. At the same time, I am disappointed that this could possibly mean that the end of the “Stephen Colbert” character that I find extremely funny and that helps provide some much needed satire of our political system. The one-two punch of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every night makes this political scientist very happy. The idea of losing half that formula is troubling; you hate to hold back a talented guy, but selfishly I wanted Colbert to stay put and not mess with my routine.
When Stephen Colbert takes over The Late Show, one would have to assume that he is taking over the show as Stephen Colbert the man, not Stephen Colbert the character. I don’t see a major network , especially one that happens to be CBS, wanting him to do the same political stuff that he’s been doing over at Comedy Central. That character works for that particular format, but doesn’t really make sense in the more traditional talk show structure that the late night programming on the major networks has assumed. The focus is more on guests and performances; even though Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel are doing some fun and interesting things in the first 15 minutes of their respective shows, it still more about the celebrities that come on to promote whatever it is that they are working on. In some ways there will be more of Colbert – he now has twice as much time as he did before – but in many important ways there will be less of Colbert as well, at least the Colbert that we all know. He can still do political jokes, but they are going to be limited to his monologue. He’ll just be doing a very different show. To me, that’s a net loss – I’m sure Colbert will be great, but there are a lot of people that could be great hosting The Late Show; there are a much smaller number of people that can do what Colbert has been doing on his Comedy Central show. He’s so good at what he does now that I think his departure from Comedy Central leaves much bigger shoes to fill than Letterman’s departure at CBS. I just hope that Colbert’s talents aren’t wasted in such a generic format; we know he is capable of more.
I also worry that the jump from the more innovative Comedy Central to the more conservative CBS will impact Colbert’s artistic freedom. He can get away with a lot over at Comedy Central that just won’t fly over at the major networks; part of what I love about him is that he can be very edgy and isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. The recent #CancelColbert incident on Twitter is proof of that. He’ll most likely be dealing with less hot button issues on The Late Show, but I am still concerned that working for CBS may stifle his creativity and comedic voice. Working at basic cable may not be the dream destination, but it does come with its privileges. Most networks probably wouldn’t let you air a cartoon where President Obama and the KKK team up, especially during Black History Month – but Comedy Central did (and it was HILARIOUS).
It’s also kind of a drag that given the opportunity to increase the diversity of late night that it once again went to a white man – even if that white man is pretty great. I was skeptical that CBS was going to really shake things up, but until they made the announcement today there was still the possibility that the job could go to a woman or a person of color. With Chelsea Handler reportedly ending her talk show at E!, the late night landscape will become exclusively male and, with the exception of Arsenio, very white. It’s not necessarily CBS’s responsibility to change that, but with so many talented people that could have possibly brought a different voice or a new perspective it is kind of a disappointment that they went with the default option of “white guy” for host. Of course, there is a lot diversity within the “white guy” category; Jimmy Fallon has a different comedic sensibility than Stephen Colbert. I didn’t really expect CBS to do anything radical – that’s not their bailiwick – but the idea that they might do something different was an exciting premise.
I have been fortunate enough to see Stephen Colbert out of character and he’s still tremendously funny; I don’t worry that he isn’t up to the job, even if this will require a different kind of act than he has mastered during his long tenure on Comedy Central (fun fact: his time as a correspondent on The Daily Show actually predated Jon Stewart). I’m happy that he’ll arguably be in a bigger sandbox, though The Late Show with David Letterman and The Colbert Report have attracted approximately the same ratings, but I worry that this promotion will come with too many stifling restrictions. He’ll make it work, but I hope that some of what makes Colbert so wonderfully fantastic doesn’t get lost in the process. And, of course, I worry about my man Fallon – he’s been killing it since taking over The Tonight Show but I don’t like the idea of two of my favorite performers battling it out in more direct competition. I am thrilled, however, that it appears that The Late Show will stay in NYC. #EastCoastRepresent
This is all really a moot issue until the takeover happens in 2015; for now, my primary concern is making sure that I get myself a taping of The Colbert Report sooner rather than later. I now have a deadline. And while this answers one question, there is still the speculation of what Comedy Central is going to do with their 11:30 time slot. The possibilities there are far less limited – they could try to do another show like The Colbert Report as a companion to The Daily Show or they could go in an entirely new direction. The network is far more likely to do something innovative and they certainly are not risk averse; the options are kind of exciting. Perhaps once I finish my sitcom pitch for NBC, I should work on my development ideas for Comedy Central.
What do you think about the announcement of Stephen Colbert as the new host of The Late Show? What do you think Comedy Central will do with their newly vacant time slot? Sound off in the comments below.