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Thursday, November 21, 2019

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Colbert dons Letterman’s legendary shoes
A new era in U.S. talk show comedy begins Tuesday when Stephen Colbert officially steps into the shoes of television legend David Letterman to helm “The Late Show.” The man who shot to prominence on Comedy Central with an ultraconservative alter-ego on “The Colbert Report” moves to CBS and a world of late night vastly different from the golden years of Letterman.
 
U.S. networks face increasing competition, audience figures are down, young people watch less and less television and the success of Colbert’s rival hosts at NBC and ABC has been fueled by clever video clips that go viral on the Internet.
 
The genre is “not as central as it used to be,” explains Deborah Jaramillo, assistant professor of film and television at Boston University. “The audience is much more fragmented” and young viewers watch shows on actual television sets less and less.
 
When Jay Leno stepped down at NBC’s “The Tonight Show” last year, the channel – an engine of late-night talk show evolution – chose “Saturday Night Live” alum Jimmy Fallon to succeed him.
 
Young, debonair and with social media savvy, he has excelled at bringing along young viewers with him.
 
Before that, Jimmy Kimmel was shaking things up at ABC since 2003 as host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” “Kimmel became successful in part because what he did was easily translatable to YouTube,” said Dominic Caristi, professor in the telecommunications department at Ball State University in Indiana.
 
Colbert comes to CBS from Comedy Central, a cable network which was popularized by Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” – also good at nurturing an online profile – and adult animated comedy “South Park.”
 
By adapting to an Internet audience, the networks have repositioned themselves in a shifting media landscape.
 
At 51 years old, Colbert is older than the two Jimmys and the last to arrive. Some would have preferred to see the job go to someone like Stewart, who left “The Daily Show” last month.
 
Stewart told The New York Times he was certain CBS had made the right choice.
 
Colbert will be expected to hold his own against the Jimmys, who excel in putting together skits with Hollywood stars or musical sequences with singers. Over the summer, he dripped out a series of short comic “Late Show” videos online prefacing his takeover.
 
One way in which he may carve out a niche, Caristi suggests, would be to dabble in more social commentary than Fallon and Kimmel.
 
One early sign of that could be the inclusion of Jeb Bush, the Republican candidate for the White House whose poll numbers have tanked under the juggernaut that is Donald Trump, alongside Hollywood A-lister George Clooney as guests on the first show.
 
Vice President Joe Biden is booked for Thursday, and in the second week Colbert’s guests include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
 
Colbert has already shown on Comedy Central that underneath his Catholic family persona, he is one of the most biting comics on American television.
 
The high financial stakes and conservatism of America’s big networks can often restrict innovation, specialists say. The set and setup are sacrosanct: the guest’s chair before the audience and the traditional starting monologue from the host.
 
It’s an approach that irritates agents of change.
 
“We were hoping that CBS would go in a different direction,” Jaramillo said, “and chose a woman or a person of color.”
 
Apart from the exception that was Arsenio Hall, a black talk show host between 1989 and 1994, the big evening hosts have all been white men.
 
Trevor Noah, a South African comic who has a black mother and a white father, will replace Stewart as host of “The Daily Show” later this month.
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