Could a South Carolinian replace Letterman?

One of these South Carolinians could replace Letterman. It's not the one with the Van Gogh tie...

One of these South Carolinians could replace Letterman. It’s not the one with the Van Gogh tie…

I guess I could have put Colbert’s name in the headline, but I just wanted to relish for a moment the counterintuitive notion of one of us replacing the man who was described in one of my favorite books, Gene Sculatti’s Catalog of Cool, as “Jack Paar on mescaline.” (Or was it “Johnny Carson on mescaline?” I’ll have to look it up when I get home, as Google Books has no preview.)

How did I miss this news the end of last week?

According the Mashable, Stephen Colbert is indeed at the front of the line:

Stephen Colbert is CBS’ top choice to replace the retiring David Letterman, and has indicated that he’s willing to take over the Late Show when the time comes, people familiar with both sides of the discussions tell Mashable.

Colbert has not had any formal contract discussions with CBS, and no agreement is in place, but sources tell Mashable that he first engaged with network executives while Letterman was still mulling the timing of his retirement. Though CBS has had conversations with other candidates, including Colbert’s Comedy Central counterpart Jon Stewart, individuals with knowledge of the situation say Colbert is currently the front-and-center candidate….

Colbert is the one at left in the photo above…

11 thoughts on “Could a South Carolinian replace Letterman?

  1. Doug Ross

    Colbert would be a good choice. I don’t think anyone is clamoring for Conan O’Brien – he appears to have missed his one shot – not all his fault but he’d be considered damaged goods. John Stewart will probably have a little better chance.. since he’s been rumored to be the chosen one ever since Larry Sanders had his fictional talk show (one of the all time best series).

    Howard Stern would be interesting… but he’d have to take a big pay cut to give up his Sirius radio show and America’s Got Talent gig. CBS probably doesn’t have the guts to do anything that bold anyway.

    Letterman’s been mailing it in for five years anyway. He should go sooner versus later. Jimmy Fallon has been more entertaining in his first two months than Leno or Letterman had been for years. Fallon’s musical chops are unique in the late night world.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, the Identity Politics mill was already cranking up on this the end of last week. See “Go Ahead, Give David Letterman’s Gig to Another White Guy.”

    You know what, folks? If there’s any area where the market should be allowed to rule without anyone trying to tip it to this group or that, you’d think it would be the area of late-night talk shows. The job is insignificant. Networks should pick whoever they think will bring them the biggest audience. If everyone they pick is a member of the same tribe of hunter-gatherers from the Amazon, so be it. More likely, it’s going to be some guy who sounds like he’s from Nebraska (even if he’s from SC). Someone who, if you’ll forgive the expression, comes across as vanilla as possible — upon whom people can project whatever flavors they choose. (And that could be someone of any color — I made a similar observation about Steve Benjamin’s political appeal in the Free Times back before the election.)

    All of that said, why not Amy Poehler, or Tina Fey? I don’t know. Neither of them seem like this is their type of gig… but I wouldn’t have said it was necessarily Colbert’s, either. Jimmy Fallon, while he brings new things to the genre, was a bit closer to the classic pattern, it seemed to me. It’s an intangible thing…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, here’s what I was saying before about Mayor Benjamin:

      Steve doesn’t sound black or white, or like he’s from any particular place. He sounds, essentially, the way I did as a young man, although the last 26 years back in South Carolina have caused me to sound vaguely Southern (I think). We both had SC roots, but grew up elsewhere.

      So it may sound odd when I say that folks in Columbia can listen to him and think, “He’s like me”…

      I just mean he sounds like, as Eva put it, a sort of blank slate. Since his accent, and the rest of him, don’t suggest that he is definitely this and therefore definitely not that, you can project what you want onto him. You can fill in the blanks with your own wishes and expectations.

      I’m thinking that sort of describes a likely successful late-night host as well…

  3. Norm Ivey

    If Colbert gets it, will he stay in character? It seems to me that part of his appeal is the utter ridiculousness of the part he plays, and I wonder if moving to the Late Show would give him an opportunity to break character and do something different.

    Personally, I think John Stewart would be a better fit because his content is more authentic–there’s more substance there.

    How much overlap is there between Letterman’s audience and the Stewart/Colbert demographic?

    1. Brad Warthen

      He would certainly have to break character. Maybe his current persona could be a recurring routine on the show, but he would have to break character. It just wouldn’t work most of the time. A host, as I said, has to be generic, not specific, in his persona. The guests need to be the quirky ones. Although, now that I say that — Letterman was fairly quirky himself. But he was versatile. He could be the straight man.

      Colbert has the versatility. I recently saw part of an old rerun of Law & Order, in which he played the bad guy. (My attention was drawn to it by one of my kids saying, “Doesn’t that guy look a lot like Stephen Colbert?”) He did all right…

  4. Doug Ross

    Bill Simmons, the writer for and ESPN, worked for Jimmy Kimmel for awhile and is well connected to the late night scene, says Colbert is a mortal lock for the job. Although he does mention another name that would be interesting if CBS wanted to go younger: Neil Patrick Harris — he’s just coming off the show “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS and has done an excellent job as host of the Tony’s. He’s smart, talented at singing and dancing, and he’s gay – which probably makes CBS a little wary.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      NPH skews young, and can do variety even better than Colbert, which would give Fallon some competition…


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