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One of the many reasons Letterman will be missed is this: He's late night TV's best interviewer (yes, Kimmel can be good too, but Dave's the one). He asks questions that can be difficult, or uncomfortable and still make them work, in part because he turns the inquisition either on himself, or finds a source of humor even when there is none. (Or sometimes not: The Robin Roberts interview was a full-bore exploration of medical facts and information.)
Case in point: Last night's encounter with Peyton Manning. How to ask about not just one of the worst Super Bowl's ever, but one of the most inexplicable -- because as anyone who knows anything about football, Peyton Manning, or the Denver Broncos fully realize, there have been fewer teams in the history of this sport more supremely qualified for the big game.
It was a baffling loss, and remains so. Dave, it seems to me, reflects that puzzlement exactly right.
"Louie" is back Monday, after a TV eternity -- 19 months or so during which time the star and creator, Louis C.K., apparently figured things out. To that end, we offer our review ... and this guarantee, no spoilers. Meanwhile, check out the "Late Show with David Letterman" appearance from tonight's (Thursday) show. C.K. offers a reason why there has been such a long break...
"Louie,"...Read more »
Poor "Meet the Press" host David Gregory: Either the wolves are circling or the vultures, but either way, he has had a very bad couple of weeks. So much so that NBC News chief Deborah Turness took the highly unusual, and vaguely ominous, step Thursday morning of releasing an internal memo to the press stating her unconditional support for Gregory, while labeling some of his recent press flack "ludicrous."...Read more »
Who doesn't have a "Top Ten" list? Certainly not Stephen Colbert, who appeared on "Late Show with David Letterman" last night to reveal a.) He had once applied for a job here; and b.) Had even offered a "Top Ten" list as inducement. And like everyone else in the world, Colbert had trouble even getting a call-back. The curious ways of fate.
A clip featuring the next host.
How will the once and future king of "Late Show," Stephen Colbert, appear when he arrives at this exalted place sometime in 2015? We get a hint tonight, when he appears on "Late Show with David Letterman" as . . . himself. And Himself doesn't look a whole lot different from his Alter Ego Self: Same voice, same tie, same wicked-fast wit.
Check out this clip that was just released.
Stephen Colbert -- in character of course -- last night addressed the David Letterman succession, but apparently had not heard the news: That he -- Stephen Colbert -- was the guy who was going to replace him.
"Dave has been on the air my entire adult life . . . I learned more from watching Dave than going to my classes, especially the ones I did not go to because I had stayed up until 1:30 to watch him . . . I do not envy whoever they put in that chair . . ."
Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," was named Thursday to replace David Letterman as host of CBS' "Late Show." Colbert will remain at Comedy Central for eight more months and take over "Late Show" sometime in 2015.
In a move that even CBS acknowledged came together with lightning speed, the network said it and Colbert had agreed to a five-year deal, and that negotiations had begun only after Letterman had announced his retirement last Thursday. Colbert also affirmed he would not play his "Colbert Report" character as host of "Late Show." "I won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it," Colbert said in a statement.
And he added: "Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career. I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead."
In his own statement, Letterman said, "Stephen has always been a real friend to me. 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."
Colbert - who turns 50 next month, was expected -- I reported here at TV Zone over a month ago. But this quick an announcement was not. Clearly CBS wanted to get the speculation behind it and begin laying the groundwork for the transition as as soon as possible.
Of immediate concern for New Yorkers: CBS did not announce a venue, and the network long ago wanted Dave to go west. Will the same pressure be brought to bear on Colbert? Reasons for a westward move are many, but the studio space in California (at TV City) is vast...But a New York venue makes sense too. First of all, there is the Ed Sullivan Theater -- a baton hand-off from from one of the great hosts in TV history to his replacement would have immense appeal. Second, the city's energy has been a boon for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" -- which has simply fed off it. Another factor in favor of NYC: If Colbert brings his staff, as he almost certainly will, a cross-country move for dozens and dozens of critical staff members is difficult. It is certainly not insurmountable: Conan O'Brien did it, after all.
Reasons for this quick announcement -- Letterman only announced that he was ending his 32 years in late night just a week ago -- are obvious. Colbert's deal with Comedy Central -- where he will remain the next eight months -- was nearly over, and both he and CBS had made their mutual interest known. Moreover, this ends speculation -- will Tina Fey replace Dave? Neil Patrick Harris? -- all of which tends to be distracting, especially when unfounded.
CBS's upfront announcement to advertisers also falls next month- - and this question would certainly have come.
But here's the key reason: These transitions take time -- time for the hosts to get used to the idea, time for viewers and fans. Colbert's transition is somewhat tricky: After all, he must morph out of, to a certain degree anyway, his current persona. He must assemble a staff -- although undoubtedly he will bring his crew from Comedy Central.
Then there are the other particulars: The aforementioned venue? Will there be a band? A sidekick? All those elements that seem set in stone -- except that they are not.
And how will Colbert change his persona....? That is hardly a major issue. It is not even an "issue" -- but a silly distraction that the press and other observers seemed to take seriously for a time. Check out this earlier post, if you have not done so already, which has a handful of clips that demonstrate Colbert's range and facility. The Oprah Winfrey clips are good as well, for they provide some essential background of this extremely bright TV personality.
Colbert's character -- created during his years at "The Daily Show" before he launched his own late night series in 2005 -- is a partial representation of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, both of whom have sparred-on occasion, not in the friendliest of terms -- over the years. As recently as Tuesday's "The O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly said that Colbert has "damaged the country," although Thursday he seemed to step away from the jab. In a statement released to Time.com, he joked: "I hope Colbert will consider me for the Ed McMahon spot." Other conservative pundits attacked the hire, notably radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who called it an "assault on traditional American values.
Meanwhile, CBS suddenly has a 12:35 problem. Craig Ferguson will almost certainly leave "Late Late Show," which means CBS's work is far from over.
“Stephen is a multi-talented and respected host, writer, producer, satirist and comedian who blazes a trail of thought-provoking conversation, humor and innovation with everything he touches,” said CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler. ”He is a presence on every stage, with interests and notable accomplishments across a wide spectrum of entertainment, politics, publishing and music. We welcome Stephen to CBS with great pride and excitement, and look forward to introducing him to our network television viewers in late night.”"Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," said CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves in a statement. "David Letterman's legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today's announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night."A Comedy Central spokesman said Colbert had no plans to address his new job on the air Thursday night. Meanwhile, "Late Show" was not taped Thursday.
Lindsay Lohan appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" Wednesday night -- their full encounter aired well past deadline -- but one little surprise was announced earlier in the day: Oprah Winfrey was on the show, too.
At least her voice was -- the former talk-show legend-turned cable mogul was on the receiving end of a phone call from Lohan and Letterman.
Letterman appeared not to be keen on the idea at first. After some prodding by Lohan and an audience chanting "Op-rah! Op-rah!" Letterman called Winfrey on the actress' cellphone, identifying himself in a disguised voice as "Lindsay Lohan's secretary."
"Who is this?" Winfrey asked, and Letterman, finally using his regular voice, admitted, "It's Dave, Oprah, it's Dave." "Oh my God," Winfrey laughed. "Very good, Dave! The David Letterman who's retiring?"
Letterman asked the chief executive of OWN how Lohan -- currently in the channel's low-rated "Lindsay" docuseries -- was doing months after production on the series wrapped, and nine months after the troubled actress left rehab.
"I think she's doing really OK," a somewhat muted Winfrey responded, adding "I think, you know, to have cameras following you around for every phase of your life, and you are trying to pull your life together, I think that's a really difficult thing, so, yeah, we're really pleased that she's making some progress."
Lohan started to tear up, and Letterman then quickly changed subjects: "Oprah, I've spent 30 years trying to pull my life together. Where the hell have you been?"
Winfrey then reminded him that they both share the same "meditation teacher." To which Letterman responded: He has switched to something "that's really fantastic: Scientology."
I, your host of TV Zone, am tired to the point of catatonia of hearing the question asked repeatedly of one Stephen Colbert: But can he break character to host CBS' "Late Show" when David Letterman retires next year?
I've heard this question everywhere -- maybe even in my own head when I first wrote over a month ago that Colbert was CBS' first choice to replace Dave. I heard it during a radio interview I did last week, and was even asked by a very smart host; I heard or read it in pieces in various places, or sundry "listicles," that cited Colbert as a leading candidate.
The whole subtext is simple: "Oh surely Colbert could never break character . . . he is who he is because he is who he is, and the tautology cannot be broken because . . . well, dammit, because it just can't."
That's essentially the entire argument, and it's as dumb, or circular, as it looks.
Fact is, if Colbert were to replace the second greatest or the greatest late-night talk-show in this business' history, he would push this franchise into another realm where late-night TV seldom dares venture, on the assumption that viewers are "tired" or "idiots" or "really do care about what James Franco had for breakfast that morning."
Colbert shares a characteristic with Letterman -- both are deeply serious guys who treat comedy not as a series of one-liners but as part of an entire ecosystem where the bad should be punished, the corrupt called out, the inept brought to witness.
Letterman only intermittently applies his sense of outraged injustice; Colbert lives it night after night, he breathes it, or I suppose I should say he fire-breathes it.
That's right -- he's one of the "Game of Thrones" dragons; I forget which one.
This is where the "can he step out of character" business comes from. His alter-ego is a device that can be used as a battering ram -- a trick that can devastate any target in part because he is playing the blowhard who is the target.
In that regard, the question is a valid one: "The Colbert Report" has been a remarkably successful show because the host has been so consistent.
But Can He Step Out of Character?
He can be silly, absurd, and (umm) unserious.
He can do monologues -- standard or unstandard, take your pick; sketch comedy (that, too).
He can do everything you want your late-night host to do -- in part because he's already done it -- but he will also bring that added measure of social/political insight and commentary that exists nowhere on the broadcast networks at the moment.
If you watch the clips below, you will see someone who has the instincts of a journalist, and who knows exactly where the carotid artery is located. (I long ago believed he should have won some sort of special Pulitzer for his work on Super PACs . . . but he got an Emmy instead.)
As mentioned, he's serious but he is also human, accessible. The Real Colbert never seems pompous or full of himself, but he strikes me as an eye-level kind of guy: In other words, someone who knows how to talk to people, and not talk at them.
His "Late Show" would be excellent.
Now, will this happen or are there other good candidates out there? It is in no way a foregone conclusion, but as I have noted earlier, CBS is seriously considering him (that much I do know).
There are also other extremely qualified candidates out there, including one in-house, Craig Ferguson.
It's also far too early to be handicapping this race. But the whole point of this post is to debunk once and for all the tired know-nothing canard that Colbert "can't possibly step out of character."
I suspect this post will not debunk it, but at least I tried.
To the clips!
From last night's "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," this nice little gift: A Top 10 list tribute to David Letterman, effectively designating the top 10 reasons why David Letterman is retiring. The first five are the best, just to give you a heads up. Plus Fallon's opening to this is both gracious ... and interesting: