NEW YORK – CBS moved swiftly Thursday to replace the retiring David Letterman with Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, who will take over the “Late Show” next year and do battle with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel for late-night television supremacy.
Colbert, 49, has been hosting “The Colbert Report” at 11:30 p.m. ET since 2005, in character as a fictional conservative talk-show host. The character will retire with “The Colbert Report.”
“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”
Letterman, who turns 67 on Saturday, announced on his show last week that he would retire sometime in 2015, although he hasn’t set a date. CBS said Thursday that creative elements of Colbert’s new show, including where it will be based, will be announced later.
Mayors of New York and Los Angeles have already publicly urged the new “Late Show” host to choose their city. New York would appear to have the clear edge, since Colbert is already based in New York and CBS owns the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the “Late Show” has been taped since Letterman took over in 1993.
Letterman offered his endorsement Thursday. “Stephen has always been a real friend to me,” he said. “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.”
The choice of Colbert quickly drew the ire of a real-life conservative talk-show host. Radio’s Rush Limbaugh said Thursday that CBS “has just declared war on the heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatives. Now it’s just wide open.”
Letterman annoyed conservatives, too as Sarah Palin was a frequent target of his barbs.