The Late Show host Stephen Colbert was sure that Chris Licht was the right person for the job of showrunner of his CBS late-night show when the pair met over a drink six years ago.
But Colbert said, “I wasn’t sure whether I would like him, whether we would become friends, because we’re all show folk here, and Chris is not…. I didn’t know whether I’d like him, but six years later, I love you, Chris.”
Colbert gave his showrunner and arguably the man who helped turn around his late-night fortunes a glowing send off after Licht was named Chairman and CEO of CNN Global, starting in May.
He joked that “he trained the next President of CNN”. “I believe legally CNN now stands for the Colbert News Network. Obviously Chris is still under contract so we’re going to have to do this like a baseball trade. If CNN is taking Chris, I’m going to take Wolf Blitzer’s beard,” he laughed.
The former host of The Colbert Report, who was behind NBC’s The Tonight Show in the ratings when Licht took over, praised his humility.
“He arrived knowing what he didn’t know, which was anything about comedy or show business so he approached the job with a level of humility that is rare in executives. But here’s the thing. There are bosses and then there are leaders. Bosses tell you what to do. Leaders work as hard as you do to do what needs to be done and that’s what [Chris] did. That’s why he earned the respect from all of us here who live in the clown car,” he said. “We showed him what we really want to do, which is the show we do now and he immediately started creating the lines of communication, the lanes of responsibility and the respectful workplace that makes creative ambition at this speed possible. I’m happy that CNN will now benefit from all of his wisdom.”
Colbert pointed out that Licht had a “managerial” role rather than a creative one – that’s largely been the purview of Tom Purcell and said that the former morning news chief “respected that line”.
But he added that Licht had a particular distaste for one character on the show – the Kid Rock-esque Shrieking Joe, American Dumbass that Colbert and the writers really liked but Licht didn’t. This was backed up by the ratings – Licht is known to be someone who looks through the minute-by-minute numbers (something that I, as the person who covers the business of late-night for Deadline, can attest to) and the team promised to shelve him. Until tonight (see above), when they brought him out again to stand alongside Licht, in tears of laughter.
Given that Licht was a “bit of a stickler for the rules” who always said at staff parties, ‘Have a good time, not a great time’, Colbert brought up the Chris Licht commemorative beer floom.
“We’re going to miss all sorts of things about Chris… we’re going to miss your fleece vests, your strange loyalty to the folks at Untuckit. We’ll miss your stories of how many billionaires you know and I personally will miss the frantic, flailing hand gestures when I go 38 minutes with Neil DeGrasse Tyson or even mention Lord of the Rings. I know that all of us are really going to miss your air maraca white boy frat shuffle, but most of all, if I may, Chris, we’ll miss your tenacity in the face of opposition whether you’re going to bat with the network over how many times we can say butt-chug on CBS or insisting that the staff order Meatball Shop for lunch whether we like it or not and for the record, we not.”
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