By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS announced on Thursday that Stephen Colbert will succeed David Letterman on “The Late Show.”
Colbert, 49, is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he was a theatre major. Colbert returned to NU in 2011 to give the commencement address.
In a radio interview with CBS News, CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves said Colbert will not portray his Comedy Central character when he hosts “The Late Show.”
Letterman in a statement said: “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.”
While attending college, he studied and performed improv comedy at Annoyance Theatre and ImprovOlympic (now the iO Theater) in Chicago.
After graduating from Northwestern in 1986, and traveling in Europe, Colbert began working at The Second City answering phones. When he found out employees could take classes for free, he signed up, and ended up joining the famous comedy troupe in the same class as Chris Farley, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello.
He also performed alongside future The Daily Show teammate Steve Carrell. The two were in the very first show Kelly Leonard produced. Now executive vice president at The Second City, Leonard said Colbert had a rare combination of intellect and playfulness.
“You usually don’t get both of those. You get a writer type who’s kind of reserved, or you get the playful jump all around kind of guy, and Stephen was both,” he said.
Colbert, Sedaris and Dinello later created and starred in the CableAce-nominated sketch comedy series, “Exit 57,” and created the cult-hit narrative series “Strangers with Candy,” both for Comedy Central.
Leonard said Colbert will bring a Second City sensibility to The Late Show – namely, being in the moment and playing to the top of your intelligence.
“He’s taken all the stuff, from first his theater experience at Northwestern, and then from his work at Second City, and he’s applied that to everything he does,” he said.
Leonard said it will be interesting for fans to see Colbert beyond his character from “The Colbert Report,” where he’s parodied cable news pundits, in particular Bill O’Reilly from Fox News.
Colbert’s ‘Tonight Show’ competitor over at NBC, Jimmy Fallon, tweeted his congratulations on Thursday.
Back in February, Colbert sent out this funny tweet, congratulating Fallon but urging folks to #tivofallon
Earlier this month, Letterman said he would retire at some point in 2015. Immediately, media speculators had Colbert as one of the leading candidates to take over the show.
The CBS Television Network today announced that Stephen Colbert, the host, writer and executive producer of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning “The Colbert Report,” will succeed David Letterman as the host of THE LATE SHOW, effective when Mr. Letterman retires from the broadcast. The five-year agreement between CBS and Colbert was announced by Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation, and Nina Tassler, Chairman of CBS Entertainment.
Letterman, the legendary, critically acclaimed host of the CBS late night series for 21 years, announced his retirement on his April 3 broadcast. Colbert’s premiere date as host of THE LATE SHOW will be announced after Mr. Lettermen determines a timetable for his final broadcasts in 2015.
Specific creative elements, as well as the producers and the location for the Colbert-hosted LATE SHOW, will be determined and announced at a later date.
“Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” said Moonves. “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.”
“Stephen is a multi-talented and respected host, writer, producer, satirist and comedian who blazes a trail of thought-provoking conversation, humor and innovation with everything he touches,” said Tassler. ”He is a presence on every stage, with interests and notable accomplishments across a wide spectrum of entertainment, politics, publishing and music. We welcome Stephen to CBS with great pride and excitement, and look forward to introducing him to our network television viewers in late night.”
“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” said Colbert. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”
Adding, “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.”
Since its launch on Comedy Central in 2005, “The Colbert Report” has received widespread critical acclaim while earning two Peabody Awards and 27 Emmy nominations, including an Emmy win for Outstanding Variety Series (2013) and three Emmy wins for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program (2013, 2010, 2008). Prior to that, Colbert spent eight years as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” as an on-air personality and writer of news satire for the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series.