What we thought might be an ongoing parlor game for late night TV watchers turned out to be a quick turnaround for CBS as the eye network set its sites on Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as the host of The Late Show.
It was a decision in line with a lot of early speculation that thought Colbert's celebrity and humor had outgrown his spot as the No. 2 late night guy on Comedy Central after Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. And really, it is going to be fun to see Colbert get to be himself for a change.
On Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, the South Carolina comic's shtick is as a Bill O'Reilly-like right-wing talk show host, making the wing-nuttiest pronouncements possible. On the show, he has created enduring segments like "The Word," where he will deliver highly partisan monologues with a text-box in the corner freely translating his rant.
And Colbert knows where Kentucky is, last year presenting a widely-viewed segment on Vicco's openly-gay mayor Johnny Cummings and the town's fairness ordinance, making it the smallest city in the United States to enact a fairness ordinance. The writing and delivery of the piece was vintage Colbert.
Colbert getting theatrical in a 2012 episode of "The Colbert Report." © AP/Invision photo by Jason DeCrow.
In his interaction with guests, it has always been funny to watch Colbert spar with liberal figures he likely agrees with and then take the views of conservative guests to extremes. And celebrity guests have had to play along with the joke that Colbert is the real star in the room. But he definitely has an eye for curating guests, hosting numerous musical guests and even playing along with them.
In those respects, Colbert was a perfect choice to go up against the ratings juggernaut that has quickly become The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. Fallon does not so much host interviews as he plays, challenging guests to games like beer pong, singing along with legends like Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks. Based on The Colbert Report, it seems like The Late Show might take on a more theatrical bent like Fallon's Tonight.
But it will be good to see Colbert sans Report persona, which would be weird as the Late Show host. He is a hilarious, talented guy as himself, as gigs like his current pistachio commercials, a turn as the featured guest at the White House Correspondents Dinner and his work on The Daily Show have shown.
Indeed, having Colbert on against Fallon will give a lot of viewers a hard choice to make when 11:30 rolls around. Ironically, Colbert was the punchline of Fallon's first real bit as The Tonight Show host.
The appointment of Colbert, 49, signals a complete generational shift among late night hosts. But if there is a disappointment in this move, it is that we didn't see another shift.
There is an ongoing joke since the days of Letterman and Jay Leno sparring over Johnny Carson's old Tonight chair that this is all about white guys trading desks. And, through no fault of his own, Colbert continues the demographic consistency.
Arsenio Hall's syndicated show, seen locally at 11 p.m. on WDKY-TV 56-1 is the only deviation from that norm. Cable gives us a smidgen more variety with, say, Chelsea Handler, though she just announced she was ending her E! network show, instantly dropping her name in the Letterman replacement mix.
I had been hoping we might see an out of left-field choice like comedian and actress Aisha Tyler, a hilarious woman who has demonstrated talk and variety show chops in forums such as hosting Whose Line is it Anyway or The Talk, or recent University of Kentucky visitor and Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari, an American comedian whose family hails from India, who has a brilliant wit and finely tuned pop-culture radar. (I was going to write a post endorsing these two, but like we said, CBS moved faster than pretty much anyone expected.)
With The Tonight Show and The Late Show with Seth Meyers' ratings surging, it may be CBS did not feel it had room to be overly adventurous and needed to bring in an established star who will be able to shine brighter in the forum of a network, late-night talk show. And in those terms, CBS probably couldn't have made a better choice.