NEW YORK — CBS moved swiftly Thursday to replace the retiring David Letterman with Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, who will take over the Late Show next year and do battle with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel for late-night television supremacy.
Colbert, 49, has been hosting The Colbert Report since 2005, in character as a fictional conservative talk-show host. The character will retire with The Colbert Report.
“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”
Letterman, who turns 67 on Saturday, announced on his show last week that he would retire sometime in 2015, although he hasn’t set a date. CBS said Thursday that creative elements of Colbert’s new show, including where it will be based, will be announced later.
Mayors of New York and Los Angeles have already publicly urged the new Late Show host to choose their city. New York would appear to have the clear edge, since Colbert is already based in New York and CBS owns the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Late Show has been taped since Letterman took over in 1993.
Letterman offered his endorsement Thursday. “Stephen has always been a real friend to me,” he said. “I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”
It’s a rapidly changing period for that time slot. Fallon took over for Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight” show in February, and has dominated the ratings since his arrival, with Letterman and Kimmel running neck-and-neck for second. Chelsea Handler has also said she is about to end her talk show on E! Entertainment Television.
CBS chose not to break the mould: CBS, ABC and NBC will all compete at 11:35 p.m. with shows hosted by white males. CBS, which has an older audience and generally seeks personalities with the widest appeal possible, is taking a chance with a personality whose show has a much more specific appeal. But, like Fallon and Kimmel, Colbert is popular with young men and active on the Internet and social media.
“Our discussions really centred on finding the most talented, the most creative (choice), the person who was going to conduct the most interesting interviews and be the most interesting person himself, and that’s what led us to Stephen,” said Nina Tassler, CBS entertainment chairman. She said CBS considered several candidates, but did not name them.