CBS announced a radical change in late night TV today with the hiring of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to take over for David Letterman upon the latter’s retirement. With many wondering whether Colbert’s conservative cable news host persona will get a shot at hosting late night, CBS confirms that he will drop the character for the show.
Speaking with CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, Entertainment Weekly confirmed that Colbert would be hosting the show as himself, without his more serious satirical persona, and that the network has no concerns that his previous job as a political satirist will trigger a backlash among conservatives or former Letterman viewers.
Tassler noted that Colbert has, in a “limited” capacity, permitted his real personality to appear in public settings, but that there was no concern that his real persona would be less compelling than the Colbert Report host. “When you really have such admiration for somebody’s talent, intelligence, and satiric ability, you know there’s a gifted performer there.” Tassler added that the biggest issue, that Colbert would “honor Dave’s legacy in terms of his ability and intellect,” was no concern for the network.
Tassler also responded to whether the fact that Colbert was openly liberal raised questions as to whether he could attract conservative viewers. “We didn’t have concerns,” she responded, adding that “we were most excited about his talent to be creative and innovative.” As for criticisms from the left that Colbert is a middle-aged white male, like most hosts in the history of the genre, Tassler replied that Colbert’s “name just stood out above everybody else.” Tassler did not address the controversy surfacing this month after a Twitter activist called for removing Colbert from television over a joke in which Colbert’s Twitter account feigned being culturally insensitive to Asian Americans.
Letterman, who has sat in the Late Show chair since 1993, announced last week that he intended to retire in the near future, raising speculation as to who the network would trust with Letterman’s legacy. While not an overtly political comedian the way Colbert has been, Letterman openly expressed distrust towards many on the American right, including Sarah Palin.
Colbert, who made a name for himself in the alternative comedy Strangers with Candy, entered the political sphere as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart before Comedy Central gave him his cable news-themed parody program, The Colbert Report, in 2005. He has rarely publicly let down his Colbert Report persona, a parody of Bush-era Bill O’Reilly, since adopting it for the program.