April 10, 2014
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Stephen Colbert as 'Late Show' host: The pros and cons
By Bill Harris, QMI Agency

Reuters files

Some people will find this un-Colbert-able.

With Stephen Colbert having been named to replace the retiring David Letterman on The Late Show (CBS, OMNI) next year, I understand there will be a considerable amount of outcry from those who figured it was time for a woman.

Are those people right? Well, sure. You can't argue with the numbers. The vast majority of people in the late-night game are middle-aged white guys. Colbert turns 50 next month, and he's definitely white.

Late-night TV is one of those things, though, where far more people have strong opinions than actually watch the shows. The fact is, CBS is a business, and it has done what it thinks is best for its business.

Letterman announced his retirement on April 3. The transition from Letterman to Colbert on The Late Show will take place some time in 2015.

So what are the downs, the ups and the ramifications of this move?


* As mentioned earlier, this is not a diversity hire. That will annoy some people just on principle.

* Colbert has been the host of The Colbert Report (CTV and the Comedy Network, and Comedy Central in the U.S.) since 2005. But he plays a character on that show. Anyone tuning into The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to see his character from The Colbert Report may be disappointed.

* Colbert is not a fresh face. Now, neither was Letterman when he originated The Late Show in 1993. But I'd be willing to say with certainty that audiences today are a tad more infatuated with “new” than audiences were 22 years ago.


* This cuts both ways: Colbert is not a fresh face. People know him and lots of people like him. He is well-connected in the entertainment biz.

* Comedy is a very personal thing, but there's no denying that Colbert is razor sharp and lightning quick. He certainly seems to have the energy for this.

* Even while Colbert was playing his character on The Colbert Report, he learned how to interview a wide array of people. So that part will not be intimidating to him, as it is for so many would-be hosts.


* There is no new player, so to speak, in the late-night wars. Colbert is switching sides and switching battles, but he is a well-known general. For the incumbents, there are two ways to look at that. On the one hand, they don't have to worry about a fresh face. But on the other hand, a fresh face might have brought attention, and higher ratings, to late-night shows across the board.

* Colbert's move theoretically leaves an open slot where The Colbert Report existed, but that's not a show someone else “takes over.” It'll have to be something new, just by definition. But a fresh face on a cable channel obviously will have less of an instantaneous impact than a fresh face on a broadcast network such as CBS.

* This now pits Colbert squarely against the two Jimmys: Jimmy Fallon, who recently took over The Tonight Show (NBC, CTV Two) and the Rob Ford-infatuated Jimmy Kimmel (ABC, City). While Kimmel is 46, Fallon probably is a bit older than you think he is, at 39. None of those guys has an automatic connection to “young viewers,” the vast majority of whom don't watch late-night shows anyway, merely catching up on clips the next day if social media has lit up about anything.


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert? Risky, no. Intriguing, yes. It's time for the world to look past his character and start judging the real Stephen Colbert.

Twitter: @billharris_tv



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