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With haste and impeccable taste, CBS has picked the best possible candidate to replace retiring legend David Letterman. Hiring Stephen Colbert, whose agile mind, insanely quick wit and impressive interviewing skills will fit perfectly in the late-night talk show universe, was never less than the sublimely obvious thing to do.
NBC, take note. This is what an orderly transfer of power looks like.
Colbert has a built-in following that will likely grow when he drops the faux right-wing persona that was the cornerstone of The Colbert Report. He has an insatiable appetite for pop culture, politics, music — pretty much anything in the zeitgeist — and he has the ideal mind for taking in those information streams, filtering out what’s important and then commenting on that.
Put into a position where he can interview higher-profile guests on The Late Show, he will no doubt manage to bring something thoughtful and entertaining to the task. That’s a textbook example of what you want in a host, and rarely have I thought there’s been a more perfect match of job opening and candidate.
Colbert’s hiring also makes a ton of sense for CBS. It gets them a host who skews young enough — and with Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon in the mix at ABC and NBC, respectively, the trend at 11:30 p.m. is to get younger — without having to embarrass itself by trying out candidates who are too young or too old in some awful faux-competition. By being proactive and spot-on, CBS stopped the Internet speculation before it could really get started (a good thing) and allows the network publicity machine to start ramping up both for Letterman’s victory lap and Colbert’s coronation.
And while Comedy Central, which recently lost John Oliver to HBO, will need to find a new partner for The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart – please be Aisha Tyler – that channel is infinitely better equipped to land a host with the right mix of youth, humor and persona for that slot.
Yes, fans of Colbert “in character” will miss his show, but the truth is that the format, despite being an excellent vehicle that launched Colbert to stardom, was far too limiting for Colbert’s talent. He’s absolutely going to blossom with this new freedom. From his time on Strangers With Candy to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, he’s shown his comedic talent in various forms with an improved performer’s fluidity. That considerable talent will make him instantly watchable doing his own taped (and live) skits on The Late Show, plus it will serve him well behind the desk doing interviews.
Having interviewed Colbert at length before, I can only imagine that in some ways The Colbert Report was a golden-handcuffs type situation for him. This opportunity to take over for Letterman and branch out in a new direction should truly inspire him. An inspired Colbert? Gold.
And if you have any worries that CBS will somehow “tame” Colbert, fear not. Or, put another way: Give the network more credit. It’s not going to hire him and then shackle him. That’s just bad business, and CBS is already the best-run broadcast network in existence — it knows what it is doing. There’s no need to shape Colbert. There’s no need to break him in. He will not be awkward or mistake-prone. He’s a pro. He’s going to invigorate CBS’ late-night presence. And he’s going to validate, right out of the gate, the network’s smart and swift decision to hire him.
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The Fien Print
William Jackson Harper