By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, April 10, 2014 — It takes more than just stand-up comedy talent to qualify as a late-night host these days.
That’s the lesson of the announcement today that Stephen Colbert has been anointed David Letterman’s successor as host of “Late Show” on CBS. With Letterman announcing just last week his intention to retire next year, CBS moved quickly to sign Colbert to a five-year contract — representing an extraordinary amount of faith in Colbert’s potential for not only maintaining CBS’s position in the late-night competition at 11:35, but also improving it.
For that role, Colbert, 49, emerges as the best man for the job. Why? Because he is multi-talented, which is suddenly a requirement for hosting a late-night show — a trend driven mainly by Jimmy Fallon.
Colbert might not possess Fallon’s talent for mimicry and celebrity impressions, but Colbert is an accomplished professional in all the other aspects of show business — particularly singing, dancing and acting. He’s a shrewd showman who writes best-selling books, created a highly profitable show (“The Colbert Report”) built around a fictional character he developed and plays personally, and seems to create excitement and draw crowds wherever he goes.
With his abundance of theatrical talent (he’s formally trained in all the basics, from Northwestern), Colbert is more than a match for the multifaceted Fallon where it now counts the most — in the production of comedy-performance bits so arresting that they stand up to multiple viewings on video and social-media Web sites in the hours and days after they air for the first time on TV.
This is where Colbert’s “Late Show” and Fallon’s “Tonight Show” will battle it out most. As for the time period’s other competitor, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’s hiring of Colbert gives Kimmel an opportunity to stand out from the others. As Kimmel has long emphasized, he is more a “broadcaster” than a “comedian” — a recognition that he possesses none of the basic performing skills of his competitors. Still, his bits are wildly creative and they play well (and often better than Fallon’s) in the all-important video after-markets.
Two more things on this hiring of Colbert:
1) Some are concerned that Colbert won’t be able to make the transition from the “Stephen Colbert” character he plays on Comedy Central to the real Colbert. That happens to be a non-issue. He’ll do fine as the “real” guy behind the “Late Show” desk.
2) What about Conan? Thank you to all of the hundreds of you who visited TVHowl over the past week to read my post from a year ago suggesting that Conan O’Brien would be a great choice to replace Letterman when the time comes for Letterman to call it a day. Alas — it is not to be. The Conan story is an interesting one: There was a time when he really was the late-night heir-apparent — if not “The Tonight Show” (we all know what happened there) then the “Letterman” show. Unfortunately, if this was still an ambition of Conan’s, to break into the network fray at 11:35 p.m., then this once-every-20-years generational shift in late-night TV seems to have passed him by.
Contact Adam Buckman: email@example.com