After late night TV icon David Letterman told his audience that he was going to retire next year, it took CBS only a week to formally announce his replacement. With a speed that surprised everyone, the network revealed that they had already chosen a the next host of Late Night. Stephen Colbert, comedian, writer, and host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, will be switching networks and becoming your new best friend in the late night talk show club.
David Letterman has been a fixture of late night programming since 1982. It is a testament to the respect that Colbert enjoys in the industry that he was selected–and so quickly at that–to replace Letterman. And he deserves it.
Colbert’s popular Comedy Central show has been a landmark in its own right since it began in 2005. But in The Colbert Report, the comedian sits behind the desk not as himself, exactly, but rather plays the part of a self-important, right-wing blowhard. He has already said that he would take the helm of Letterman’s Late Night program as himself, and he’s looking forward to letting the audience get to know the real him. It’s obvious from Colbert’s bedside manner when interviewing guests, and his funny, improvisational talent in any situation, that the real Stephen Colbert is like a good friend who’ll show you a great time. His unique style of political satire is memorable, presented as it is from the viewpoint of the very politics he’s lampooning. By playing the hard-nosed ultra-conservative, Colbert gets deep under the skin of his intended target.
In the course of pointing out what he considers the most disingenuous of political activity, Colbert has basically invented a term for statements that the speaker wishes were true but aren’t necessarily so–he calls this too-common form of political discourse “truthiness,” a word which was voted Merriam-Webster’s number one word of the year in 2006. This sort of creative analysis gives you a good idea of the smart insight that Colbert brings to every subject he tackles.
Another boon for CBS in nabbing Colbert as Letterman’s successor is the delicious demographic he will probably bring along with him. The audience for The Colbert Report is among the youngest in late night television. While the average age of Letterman’s audience is 58.2, Report averages a bunch of spry 42.3 year olds. That’s a massive leap in viewer demographics, over 15 years in the right direction. And if further proof of his appeal to CBS were needed, they’ve already signed the comedian to a five year contract.
It must be said, however, that not everyone is happy with CBS’s selection of Stephen Colbert. Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh says that the network’s selection is an outright declaration of war on what he calls “the heartland of America.” He believes that what used to be a “covert assault” on conservative American values will now be shameless mockery, out in the open for all to see.
While CBS is certainly losing a grandmaster of late night talk when David Letterman retires, they’re gaining a fresh face and a deep source of smart, witty humor. Letterman jokes that CBS just wanted “another guy with glasses.” But it’ll be Stephen Colbert visiting you every night at 11:30pm, a funny guy with a friendly face and an endless supply of new ideas. Go ahead, let him in…you’re gonna have a great time.
by Peter Barreda