CBS Taps Colbert to Succeed Letterman in Late Night Role

CBS, moving quickly to fill a looming hole in its entertainment lineup, named Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert as David Letterman’s late-night replacement.

In the new role, Colbert, 49, will retire the faux conservative character he portrays on “The Colbert Report,” his cable show. A five-year agreement was announced today by CBS Corp. (CBS) in an e-mailed statement. The change will take place when Letterman steps down sometime next year.

With the appointment, CBS is turning to a successful cable TV personality who is popular with the younger viewers advertisers target and able to challenge ratings leader Jimmy Fallon at NBC. Colbert will bring a larger social-media element to the program, with his 6.2 million followers on Twitter.

“Stephen is a remarkably funny, creative, intelligent guy,” CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in an interview. “We wanted to get this done, and when you want to get something done you do it quickly.”

CBS is also thinking about a new host at 12:30 a.m. for “The Late Late Show” now featuring Craig Ferguson. Along with the Colbert deal, that would amount to a complete overhaul of late night. Ferguson, whose contract ends in June, could stay.

“12:30 is up in the air,” Moonves said. “Obviously, we’re considering all sorts of candidates and women are among them. A woman would be great in late night.”

Cheryl Maisel, a spokeswoman for Ferguson at PMK-BNC, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Contract Talks

Colbert and CBS began their negotiations after Letterman announced last week he was stepping down, Moonves said. Letterman also was consulted on the network’s choice, he said.

“I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me,” Colbert said in the statement. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”

Moonves said he’s weighing whether to relocate “The Late Show,” which is currently taped in New York near Times Square at the Ed Sullivan Theater. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have both reached out, he said.

“I’m now being seduced,” Moonves said. “I’ve been called by the mayor of New York and the mayor of Los Angeles. It’s very nice to have all this attention.”

Show Staffing

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement he would urge Moonves to keep the show in New York.

“Our state is a top destination for entertainment businesses to thrive and grow, creating jobs and economic opportunities for communities across the state, and late night programs are a major part of that success,” Cuomo said.

Elements of the show, including staffing, have yet to be worked out, CBS said.

The appointment of Colbert, who parodies a conservative commentator in his nightly show on the Viacom Inc. (VIAB) cable network, completes a changing of the guard in late-night.

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

Letterman, 66, said on April 3 he plans to retire in 2015, closing out a record 33-year run on late-night television. Fallon, 39, took over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno earlier this year. Jimmy Kimmel, 46, began hosting a new 11:35 p.m. show in the ABC network in January 2013.

“We look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking ‘Colbert Report’ and wish Stephen the very best,” Steve Albani, a network spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Network Correspondent

Colbert started on Comedy Central as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” His character was spun off into the separate show that parodies political opinion shows like Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.’”

He and his team have won four Emmy awards for the variety series and its writing, CBS said.

“Welcome to the CBS funhouse,” Ferguson said on Twitter.

Colbert is also author of two books, “I Am America (and So Can You!) and ‘‘America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.’’

The comic’s show has aired on Comedy Central since 2005 and has averaged 1.1 million viewers a night in the past year, according to Nielsen ratings supplied by Horizon Media Inc. Fallon is attracting 5.02 million viewers a night since taking over ‘‘The Tonight Show,’’ according to TVbytheNumbers.com

CBS and Viacom, both controlled by Sumner Redstone, were a single company before splitting almost a decade ago.

CBS fell 3.8 percent to $59.98 at the close in New York and has declined 5.9 percent this year. Viacom, also based in New York, lost 3.6 percent to $82.83 and has retreated 5.2 percent so far in 2014.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net Rob Golum, James Callan

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