Thursday, April 10, 2014

Colbert will succeed Letterman

David Letterman announced last week that he would be retiring no later than sometime in 2015. For about a week, everyone has been wondering who would take his place in the 11:35 time slot. Now we know it will be Stephen Colbert.

Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter says what we Colbert fans have known all along: Colbert is a fantastic replacement for the at-one-time-groundbreaking, now iconic Letterman. That, however, is little consolation for me.

It's possible that I'll follow my current routine of watching Stewart, then Colbert, with the only change being to pick up the remote sometime between 11:30 and 11:35. But what if Comedy Central finds a replacement for Colbert who's equally compelling? I admit, it seems unlikely. Still, who knows who's lurking in obscurity, just waiting for this chance to break out?

The other questions, of course, are whether Colbert will succeed in his new gig, and if he does, whether I'll still want to watch him.

As to the first, Colbert is an immensely talented, bright man. I don't believe he'll flop, unless he's the victim of overblown expectations.

The better question is whether what he'll be doing at CBS will interest me. The Big 3 network late-night shows are still very much in the Carson vein. Even if the host is on fire, the guests are unlikely to be anywhere near as good and the subject matter, pop culture, is stultifyingly dull night after night. Part of the allure of Stewart/Colbert is that they book a far wider variety of guests from many backgrounds: art, literature, science, sports, and politics, in addition to a smattering of TV, movie and music stars. I doubt Colbert will enjoy the same freedom of booking at CBS. And if he ends up doing a variant on what Fallon and Kimmel do, it won't keep my attention no matter how much better he does it.

I always knew we were — oops: still are — witnessing TV history in the making with the Stewart/Colbert pairing. It's a one-two punch as potent as the legendary CBS Saturday night lineups of the 1970s, icons back-to-back. I also knew, intellectually, it wouldn't last forever. Yet I'm already a little in mourning that it'll be over in less than a year.

Ah well. Nobody deserves the big chair more than Colbert.

(And as Goodman snarkily observed, "NBC, take note. This is what an orderly transfer of power looks like.")

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