Stephen Colbert, to the excitement of many, was given the late night spot on CBS, replacing David Letterman who has held the position since 1993. Colbert has been on Comedy Central as a direct competitor to “The Late Show” since the early days of Jon Stewart’s current run as “Daily Show” host, and as host of “The Colbert Report” since 2005.
Colbert has managed to create a career on his current program by satirically personifying the stereotype of a radical right-wing news reporter. However, he will not be bringing the character he’s best known for over with him to CBS.
Late night television is now dominated by youth culture. Gone are the days of your parents leaving on “The Late Show” or “The Tonight Show” and falling asleep immediately after the monologue, and now are the times of a new generation. The exit of Letterman, along with Leno earlier this year, marks the end of a multidecade-long era in late night television that started with the exit of Johnny Carson from the Tonight Show.
“I feel like there is a new era coming in and things that were once taboo ideas are now being expressed openly,” said junior Yadira Molina, a political science major. Colbert taking over Letterman’s position is just one of the major changes in favor of youth culture that networks have made for their late night slots recently.
Jimmy Fallon recently replaced Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show” and Seth Meyers, another Saturday Night Live alumnus, took over Fallon’s old job as “Late Night” host. Almost all late night talk shows are now being written for and adored by younger audiences; even Conan O’Brien, who has been around almost as long as Letterman and Leno, has always been regarded as the off-beat, hip and young show host is now the old man in late night television.
Colbert himself will leave a coveted time slot unoccupied when he moves to “The Late Show,” which leaves Comedy Central to find a comedian, writer, or perhaps another “Daily Show” correspondent to replace him.
CBS has also set an interesting precedent by going out of network to hire a replacement instead of promoting or moving from within. NBC, the main rival of CBS and current head of late night ratings, has set up a system of inward promotion that was supposed to begin with Conan moving from “Late Night” to “The Tonight Show” which, of course, did not work out. Yet NBC now seems to be fully committed to their system with the promotion of Fallon to “The Tonight Show” and Meyers’ move from “Weekend Update” desk anchor to “Late Night” host.
CBS, on the other hand, has chosen to go out of network and tap in Colbert instead of their current “Late Show” follow-up, Craig Ferguson. Ferguson is remaining in his current time slot and it is hard to imagine that he feels less than neglected by his home network, passed over for the job many assumed he would have naturally inherited. Ferguson is a much more niche host, whose monologues are mainly unscripted and whose only co-host is a robot.
No matter what happens in the world of late night talk shows, Colbert is sure to make waves and help transition an entire generation from the underground to the mainstream of late night comedy.