UPDATED WITH NEW DETAILS: A week after David Letterman announced his retirement, CBS has named his successor. Stephen Colbert has inked a five-year deal to take over Late Show, a move that is effective as soon as Letterman officially steps aside from the late-night show he has headlined since its launch on CBS in 1993. CBS will own Late Show With Stephen Colbert, unlike Late Show With David Letterman, which is owned by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants. CBS Corp Chairman Leslie Moonves said no dates have been set and reiterated that Letterman’s last day is the host’s to choose. Colbert is host of Comedy Central‘s faux-news show The Colbert Report, which airs in the east at the same time as Late Show, 11:30 PM. Colbert had been on the radar of top CBS brass for awhile and was Moonves’s top choice. Colbert too had had an eye on the job for a long time, synching up his Comedy Central contracts with Letterman’s. His current one is coming up at the end of this year, making him available for the Late Show host transition, slated for sometime in 2015. “Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” said Moonves in today’s announcement. “David Letterman’s legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today’s announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night.”
Colbert, a Second City alum, was a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show team for eight seasons before spinning off Colbert Report in 2005. The show has two Peabody Awards and 27 Emmy nominations, winning four times — including for Outstanding Variety Series last year, breaking Daily Show‘s 10-year winning streak. For the Late Show gig, he will ditch the conservative pundit character he has played for nearly a decade. “Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said in today’s announcement. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.” He added: “I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”
That won’t happen for a while as he will stay in his current job until the end of his contract. “Comedy Central is proud that the incredibly talented Stephen Colbert has been part of our family for nearly two decades,” the network said in a statement. “We look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking Colbert Report and wish Stephen the very best.”
CBS said in its announcement that specific creative elements well as the producers and the location for the Colbert-hosted Late Show will be determined and announced at a later date. That language is sure to pique interest from politicians in both New York, where Letterman’s show currently lives at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, and in LA, where Mayor Eric Garcetti and film czar Ken Ziffren called Moonves directly Tuesday asking the CBS chief to move the late-night franchise to the West Coast. That came one day after NY Mayor Bill de Blasio urged Moonves to keep Late Show in New York after Letterman steps down. Colbert has deep roots in New York, where he has lived and worked for two decades, so keeping the show in his home town would appear a more natural choice. If you are a gambler, put your money on New York, given that Colbert is an East Coast guy with family ties there. And then there’s that Ed Sullivan Theatre legacy — legacy being very important to Moonves. The question remains whether the lead-out program, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, will continue to be made in Los Angeles. Ferguson, whose contract is coming up soon, has a provision in that pact that gave him a shot at succeeding Letterman at 11:30 PM, with a multimillion-dollar penalty attached if he was passed over. If he does not continue to host Late Late Show — which is a co-production of CBS and WWP — CBS might want to consolidate its late-night programs on one coast, as NBC has done, to facilitate talent booking.
Today’s announcement also leaves a gap at Comedy Central, where Daily Show and Colbert Report have controlled the late-night landscape for almost a decade. However, the cable network has a strong new late-night player in @midnight, which has done very well behind Colbert. In hindsight, it probably would’ve been handy for Comedy Central to have John Oliver still on deck — the longtime Daily Show regular signed to do a weekly HBO show after a strong turn as a guest host on the Daily Show last summer.