CBS announced on Thursday that Stephen Colbert signed a five-year contract to succeed David Letterman as the host of The Late Show when Letterman retires some time in 2015. The current Colbert Report host will stay with his Comedy Central series through 2014.
"Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career," Colbert said in a statement. "I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead ... I'm thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth."
Original Late Show host Letterman had the following to say in a statement: "Stephen has always been a real friend to me. 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."
Letterman revealed that he was retiring from The Late Show, a series he created more than 20 years ago, on the April 3 episode, exactly a week before CBS announced Colbert as his replacement. "The man who owns this network, Leslie Moonves, he and I have had a relationship for years and years and years, and we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance. And I phoned him just before the program, and I said, 'Leslie, it's been great, you've been great, and the network has been great, but I'm retiring,'" Letterman told The Late Show audience. "I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theater, all the people on the staff, everybody at home, thank you very much."
The news doesn't come as a surprise; almost as soon as Letterman's announcement was made, several reports surfaced that Colbert was the frontrunner for the position. "Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves said in a statement on Thursday. "David Letterman's legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today's announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night."
There's no word yet on whether or not the Colbert-hosted Late Show will take over Letterman's longstanding studio at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. Though, per CBS, the location and format for the Colbert's incarnation of The Late Show will be determined at a later date, Moonves did confirm in an interview with CBS Radio News that the series will be called The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The CBS president also confirmed, as first reported by the New York Times' Bill Carter, that Colbert will not host The Late Show as the characterized version of himself that he's been playing for 17 years.
The Colbert Report debuted on Comedy Central in 2005, a spin-off featuring the character Colbert launched on The Daily Show in 1997. It's since gone on to win four Emmys.
"Comedy Central is proud that the incredibly talented Stephen Colbert has been part of our family for nearly two decades," the network said in a statement on Thursday. "We look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking Colbert Report and wish Stephen the very best."
Since Letterman announced his retirement, many have wondered if CBS would take the opportunity to break the cycle of having middle-aged white males behind nearly all late-night desks. And there was certainly disappointment among some people on Thursday when CBS broke the news that they hadn't seized that opportunity. Later in the day, CBS Radio News' Dan Raviv asked Moonves about the negative feedback. Moonves had this to say: "We considered everybody and among the list of usual suspects, there were a number of women's names. But as I said, we felt like, even after looking at all those, Yeah, Stephen Colbert's another white guy, but what an amazing white guy he is. He's the best person for the job and that's who we went with."