Stephen Colbert: The End Of One Joke, The Start Of Many More Eric Deggans looks at the move by Stephen Colbert from the show he does in character on Comedy Central to CBS late night.

Stephen Colbert: The End Of One Joke, The Start Of Many More

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All the speculation about who might replace David Letterman is over. Only a week after Letterman announced his retirement, Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert is getting the job. On his show last night, Colbert said Letterman's shoes will be tough to fill.


GREENE: Colbert will take over "The Late Show" next year. He signed a five-year contract with CBS, and the deal could remake late night TV once again. Here to talk about what this means for comedy and television is NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Good morning, Eric.


GREENE: So do we have a Top Ten reasons why Stephen Colbert is the right pick here?


DEGGANS: I don't know if I've got 10 for you...


DEGGANS: But I can tell you that in a lot of ways Stephen Colbert is a perfect choice. He's talented and accomplished enough that Letterman fans, and critics like me, are going to say this is a great choice. And he's popular enough with Comedy Central's young fans that he can compete with Jimmy Kimmel, on ABC; and Jimmy Fallon, on NBC; who are strong with young male viewers, especially.

Now - and Colbert wanted this job. You know, reportedly, he had synched up his contract at Comedy Central to end when Letterman's agreements did.


DEGGANS: And the biggest question mark we've got left here is, what kind of show is Colbert going to do because he currently plays this fictional cable TV news host who's also named Stephen Colbert, on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," and I'm really hoping he's going to figure out some way to break this really restrictive formula that we've seen in most late-night TV shows.

GREENE: OK. This is a really interesting point because some viewers - and myself included - didn't realize at first that Colbert, on his current show, is actually playing a character, not being himself. I mean, so he won't bring this character to CBS? Things will be different?

DEGGANS: No. Colbert told The New York Times yesterday that he plans to do the show as himself, which means that for "The Colbert Report" fans like me, there's a little bit of sadness in seeing the show go away and this character go away - because he was so adept at satirizing issues while educating us about them, from poking fun at campaign finance by starting his own SuperPAC, to making George W. Bush squirm while keynoting the White House Correspondents Association's dinner in 2006.

And I think we have a clip from that.


GREENE: That was quite a moment. So what does this hire mean for the rest of late-night television, Eric?

DEGGANS: It's tough to understate the loss of "The Colbert Report." When it debuted, we hadn't really seen a show try something like this; where the star was playing a fictional character who shared his name and was dishing satire on real issues and people. I think the show's gift to the audience was teaching us how to process that kind of complex humor every time we watched an episode.

And personally, I would just love to see Comedy Central elevate somebody from "The Daily Show" to 11:30 - like Samantha Bee or Aasif Mandvi - to continue that kind of humor.

GREENE: And what about for CBS? Is this something that could give them a real boost?

DEGGANS: Well, Craig Ferguson, who hosts the program after Letterman, "The Late, Late Show," if he feels passed over and decides to leave, that gives CBS an opportunity to diversify; maybe bring a woman in, bring a person of color in there. And some people think this type of show may be old hat, but TV outlets are creating more of these kinds of shows, not less. So I think we're going to see more of this on the landscape.

GREENE: All right. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

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