The televised announcement of “The Late Show” host David Letterman’s retirement sparked an immediate knee-jerk reaction of public speculation over who would be chosen to fill the void left by the longest running talk show host. Familiar names began to enter the fray as potential successors. Rumors circulated regarding Neil Patrick Harris, Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and even Jay Leno as the next torch bearer. Ultimately, however, it would be Comedy Central’s golden goose, Stephen Colbert, who would be awarded the opportunity to take his talents to one of the most coveted spots in television.
Colbert first entered the spotlight as an analyst on John Stewart’s The Daily Show before ultimately earning his own satirical talk show, The Colbert Report, in 2005. Over the last decade, Colbert’s popularity has soared, finding much success in the ever-coveted 18-49 demographic. Young adults could not get enough of Colbert’s faux-conservative character, who mockingly depicts a very uninformed, naïve, and often idiotic news personality.
Given Colbert’s gimmick as a quasi-talk show host, the biggest question going into the new “Late Show” era will be whether or not the audience will be tuning in to watch Stephen Colbert, or “Stephen Colbert”. Though CBS has yet to reveal any information pertaining to the show’s outline, most members of the media seem to agree that Colbert will have to lay his eccentric caricature to rest, embracing instead a less extreme persona. This may be difficult to imagine, as audiences have often had trouble determining where “Colbert” the character ended and Colbert the man began. But Stephen Colbert is, above all else, a performer. His invented character was nothing more than ingenious acting from a very charismatic entertainer, and the talk show host himself has claimed that he has no trouble in leaving his invention behind.
Yet, some skepticism about Colbert’s reception in his new role must exist. Though the real Stephen Colbert undoubtedly possesses all of the magnetism, charm, and inherent skills of a bona fide talk show host, one must also question how the public will respond to what is sure to be a much more dry and subdued version of the “The Colbert Report” host. At best, Stephen Colbert runs the possibility of being slightly less comical, and at worst, risks being seen as down right boring. The new host runs as a risk for CBS, which has chosen to gamble on a version of Stephen Colbert who has never seen the spotlight, and who most of the world has never even met.