Stephen Colbert’s exit leaves huge gap at Comedy Central

  • By Meg James Los Angeles Times
  • Sunday, April 13, 2014 3:09pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

LOS ANGELES ­— Comedy Central now has a late-night problem.

CBS’ announcement that Stephen Colbert would take over “The Late Show” next year when David Letterman retires leaves a huge gap in Comedy Central’s marquee lineup.

For nearly a decade, “The Colbert Report” has been a trusty follow-up to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and the pair delivered a formidable one-two punch that became one of the main sources of turmoil for rivals in the late-night TV race.

The Comedy Central duo — Stewart as the quick-witted liberal and Colbert with his faux persona as a conservative gasbag — seemed so locked in that there was no room for John Oliver, a correspondent who emerged as host material himself when he filled in for Stewart on “The Daily Show” last summer.

But with no openings on Comedy Central, Oliver departed the Viacom-owned network last year to headline a new program at HBO, which is owned by Time Warner Inc. Oliver’s new weekly satire show on HBO, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” debuts April 27.

It was unclear Thursday morning just how long the Colbert-to-CBS move has been in the works. CBS played its cards close to the vest, in large part because of CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves’ respect for Letterman.

Moonves and others at CBS, including CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, also were slightly horrified by the messy late-night transitions at NBC and didn’t want a repeat of that.

However, Colbert replacing Letterman had been a scenario whispered about in media circles long before Letterman announced his decision last week to step down.

There was at least one strong clue that Colbert had been in the wings to replace Letterman for some time. In the summer of 2012, both Colbert and Stewart renewed their contracts with Comedy Central.

While Stewart’s deal was extended for three years, until September 2015, Colbert got a shorter extension, to the end of this year, just in time to move over to CBS and “The Late Show.”

He is expected to continue to anchor “The Colbert Report” for another eight months before shaking off his conservative pundit shtick for the new gig at CBS.

The succession plan for Letterman is the latest shift in a rapidly changing late-night landscape driven, in large part, by the success of Stewart and Colbert at Comedy Central.

Young viewers preferred Stewart and Colbert to the programs on the broadcast networks and that played a part in ABC and NBC’s moves to overhaul their late-night blocks to try to capture that audience, which is prized by advertisers.

ABC placed Jimmy Kimmel at 11:35 p.m., bumping “Nightline” into the wee hours. NBC moved out Jay Leno to make way for Jimmy Fallon at “The Tonight Show.” Leno stepped down in February.

Comedy Central was mum on a Colbert replacement, saying only that it wished Colbert the very best.

Letterman echoed that sentiment:

“Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I’m very excited for him, and flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”

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