Colbert, 49, who made his mark satirizing political
conservatives on his Comedy Central weeknight cable show "The
Colbert Report," said on Thursday he would drop his known
persona of a dim-witted, big-egoed conservative pundit.
"I won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to
find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it,"
Colbert said in a statement.
There is a measure of risk in abandoning a groundbreaking
formula for the comedian whose Emmy-winning show has attracted a
strong audience among young viewers, a coveted group that CBS is
surely eyeing with its choice of Colbert.
"A lot of his audience has never seen him as himself," said TV
analyst David Bianculli. "He'll bring a lot of that sensibility
to it, but it will be a different tone."
But for the comedian who plays the court jester to U.S. politics
and is known for inventing zeitgeist catch phrases like "truthiness,"
he has a chance to distinguish himself against rivals as an
expert interviewer as he has often done on "The Colbert Report"
and first as a member of the cast of "The Daily Show with Jon
"I think it's smarter than turning it over to someone who has
never done the job of interviewing, which he does really well,"
"WE JUMPED AT IT"
Jimmy Fallon, 39, who took over NBC's "The Tonight Show" from
Jay Leno in February, and Seth Meyers, Fallon's 40-year-old
replacement on the network's "Late Night" program, each
developed their comic touch as performers on sketch comedy
program "Saturday Night Live."
"Colbert's talent at playfully bantering with guests ... also
reflects a contrast with Jimmy Fallon, who despite his knack for
musical parodies and viral videos can at times be cloying or
empty in the interview format," wrote Brian Lowry, the TV
columnist for trade publication Variety.
Details of how the format of "Late Show" will change under
Colbert's stewardship, or whether it will remain based in New
York City, have yet to be determined.
CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler said Colbert's
representative approached the network about Letterman's spot.
"When his name was brought to our attention, we jumped at it. He
stood out above the rest," she said, noting that Letterman gave
What is sure is that CBS will be making a play to expand on
Colbert's Comedy Central audience and capitalizing on his
Twitter following of 6.2 million, which dwarfs the 286,000 at
the "Late Show."
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Colbert's half-hour show attracts an average of 1.1 million viewers
to the Viacom Inc-owned network, according to Nielsen, less than
half as many as those who tune into the "Late Show." That number is
miniscule in relation to his cultural impact.
Colbert's audience has a median age of 42 years, 16 years younger
than Letterman's. Ad sales for "The Colbert Report" rose slightly
last year while advertising for "Late Show" declined in 2013,
according to ad tracking firm Kantar Media.
Fallon, who has been able to create a strong following on YouTube
and has 12.3 million Twitter followers, has lifted the "Tonight"
audience by bringing in younger viewers, and attracts twice as many
viewers under the age of 50 as Letterman.
The late-night hosts compete for viewers with cable offerings such
as the comedy programming on Time Warner Inc's Adult Swim, which
draws nearly 1.2 million 18-to 49-year olds on average during the
same time slot, according to Nielsen. That's more than either Kimmel
or Letterman in the age group most desired by advertisers.
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Unlike his late-night rivals, Colbert has burnished his image by
tackling political issues with the biting satire of his
self-described "fool" persona.
Although early reaction has been positive to Colbert's hiring, some
have wondered if the South Carolina native's backhanded skewering of
conservatives — with lines like "reality has a well-known liberal
bias" that have made him a favorite on the left — could stand in his
way of establishing wide appeal outside of his niche cable
"He's (a) smart and genial fellow who's a good enough actor and
improviser to pull off breathtaking satire, but has never spent any
appreciable time on camera," wrote Wired's Peter Rubin, adding that
audiences may find Colbert's fictional persona preferable to him
But in a signal of how he can connect out of character, Colbert
touched viewers last year when he dropped his bloviating persona in
a moving tribute to his late mother.
CBS believes he will have enough versatility to work on a broadcast
"He is so nimble, and so smart and quick-witted," Tassler said. "All
of those qualities and attributes are a hallmark of a great host."
(Additional reporting by Ron Grover and Lisa Richwine;
Mary Milliken, James Dalgleish, Jonathan Oatis and Bernard Orr)
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