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A week after David Letterman announced that he’d be retiring from CBS’ Late Show in 2015, CBS tapped Colbert Report Emmy winner Stephen Colbert as his successor. The announcement ended a week of speculation about who would take over for late-night’s longest-running host and go head-to-head with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler to discuss what made Colbert the right man for the job, whether Late Show will remain in New York and what the network’s plans are for Craig Ferguson, whose contract for The Late Late Show expires at year’s end.
What makes Colbert the right choice?
We talked about a lot of people and his name stood way above everybody else’s. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It’s a big, big seat to fill and he is the perfect choice to honor Dave’s legacy.
You didn’t waste any time in announcing Letterman’s successor. What was the thinking in making the announcement so soon?
We saw this opportunity — we realized that this was a moment in time and we really moved very quickly to put all the pieces in place. Dave was a part of the decision and has blessed it. We think he is a great new face to our late-night schedule.
We know the Late Show name is staying. Will Worldwide Pants continue to produce/own the show? What have those discussions entailed?
No, they won’t. We are going to produce and own the show, and we are keeping the title.
What kind of a role did Dave have in no longer producing the show? Was that his choice?
It was not a part of the conversation. Dave has been extremely gracious; he was very supportive of the decision and is very excited to welcome Stephen into the family.
Will Craig Ferguson remain at CBS once his contract expires at year’s end?
Craig is our 12:30 guy. We’ve been focused so intently on 11:30. We’re dealing with one hour of late-night at a time. We’ll have conversations about 12:30 very shortly. But our first order of business was to shore up 11:30.
Are you looking to replace Ferguson?
We haven’t had those conversations. We were most focused on protecting Dave’s legacy. He was a key part of blessing this decision. Our conversations have been focused on Dave blessing it, Stephen being respectful of Dave. That has literally been our sole focus.
What was your conversation with Craig like about not getting Letterman’s spot? Did he have any thoughts about sticking around? Did he express any surprise?
He was incredibly gracious. None of that factored into our communication. It was his graciousness and his well wishes for Stephen.
Colbert will ditch his Colbert Report character for Late Show. Could that be something that makes its way back as a recurring bit on the show?
We don’t know yet. The specific creative elements, executive producers, producing auspices — that will all be determined at a later date.
Might any of Letterman’s signature bits remain under Colbert?
I don’t know, given that those are part of the creative, all of which Stephen will be working on as he gets into the development of his new show.
Will Late Show stay in New York? What are those conversations like? How soon are you expecting to have a decision on that?
That we don’t know yet. All those conversations are ongoing. I have no guesstimates on a timetable right now.
Colbert is pretty liberal. How political can we expect Late Show to get under his purview?
I don’t know yet. I can only say that obviously we have an election year just around the corner so I’m sure he’s going to have … to what extent, I don’t know. But certainly his expertise in this area is well known and very well respected. Who knows. We’ll see.
There are no women or hosts of color on broadcast’s late-night slate. Was that something that was a concern to you in picking Colbert?
We talked about everyone. Once Dave made his announcement, we received a lot of phone calls. Stephen Colbert’s name was brought to our attention. His name stood out well above the rest. In addressing the diversity issue from a network perspective, you have to look across the full spectrum of the network’s schedule. We have diversity in all different day parts. It’s something that we embrace philosophically from the network. It’s very important to us. At the end of the day, we made the best choice because we felt that Colbert was the right name for us at the right time and that’s how we have to make our decisions.
Is Chelsea Handler part of your 12:30 conversations?
I can’t comment on that right now. We’re not even talking about 12:30 right now.
Do you have a timeline on when you’ll have a decision about Ferguson’s slot?
Not at the moment.
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