When it was announced earlier this month that David Letterman would be riding into the sunset and ending his time as the host of CBS’ “Late Show,” speculation ran rampant as to who would serve as his successor. Some anticipated that Craig Ferguson would take the gig given his current affiliation with CBS in his spot after Letterman. Some hoped that CBS would add diversity to the late-night line up by picking a female to host the show.
However, the network decided to go in the exact opposite direction and ask “Colbert Report” star Stephen Colbert to take the reins and replace Letterman after more than 20 years behind the desk. While general reactions to the news have been mixed, I for one feel like the move was bold and, while a bit unexpected, an overall quality decision that will allow the show to go in a completely different direction – should CBS wish to appeal to a younger audience.
Colbert has been a force in comedy since the “Colbert Report” premiered in 2005, a spinoff of “The Daily Show.” The comedian, notorious for his ultra-conservative character, has shown versatility in his strong satirical style. Despite his being in-character for his interviews, he has shown time and time again that he has talent for strong interactions with his guests. I think once we get to know the “real” Colbert, as opposed to his “Colbert Report” persona, we’ll find that he’s able to conduct quality interviews on a consistent basis and prove to a wider audience that he’s a genuine and likable person.
As mentioned, the biggest surprise about Colbert being signed is that he’s essentially only known as Stephen Colbert the character, not Stephen Colbert the person. The Colbert that people know from the Report is an almost entirely fictional version of who the real person is, complete with a fake backstory and even a biography with which some die-hard fans will surely be familiar. The biggest grey area surrounding the Colbert’s five-year deal is, who is the real Stephen Colbert? How much of the character is not a character, but is truly genuine? When Stephen Colbert sits behind the desk for the first time in August 2015, who will he be? From the few times that he’s been interviewed outside of his character shell, I believe we’ll see a genuinely kind, lighthearted Steve who will carry his strong satirical background and use it to his advantage.
Colbert seemingly has strong working relationships with numerous big names, including not just Letterman, but Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon and more. While on the surface, this may not seem like a big deal, I think it stands to show that Colbert as a person is a likable and funny individual. Rather than having to hide behind the pundit persona any longer, Colbert will finally get to be himself and exploit these connections for his own good, rather than that of his character’s.
The biggest benefit to having Colbert host the show is that he’s likely to attract a younger audience to watch “The Late Show.” Similar to the way Jimmy Fallon has helped attract a younger audience to “The Tonight Show,” I think Colbert will have a large number of viewers carry over to watch him in the new show. Having an established audience is crucial to success, and I can only imagine that such a notion was not glanced over by CBS in their consideration for a new late-night host. Not only would having an audience carry over increase the new show’s ratings, it could potentially help introduce a whole new audience to the show as well.
Let’s face it, no 18 or 19-year-old is going to go out of their way to watch David Letterman. He’s not hip, he’s not modern and he isn’t what the average teen looks for in a comic or television personality. Give a teenager the chance to watch Colbert, and they’ll go out of their way to watch his show, whether it be in clips or in its entirety. CBS, if they’re smart, is banking on those kids going out of their way to see what Colbert will do with the show. And it’s not necessarily because they are a fan of “The Late Show,” it’s because they are a fan of Colbert’s. CBS picked a familiar face, and above all else a likable comic to take the mantle from a late night legend. And while it’s certainly too soon to speculate, I have a feeling that Colbert will prove to be a wise choice on CBS’s behalf. Time will tell.
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