Colbert Takes Letterman Late Night Job Because Oodles of Money and Power

Jacob Harper  |

It is official: the reins of The Late Show on CBS, possibly the most relevant franchise in late night television, will be handed to satirist Stephen Colbert starting some time in 2015. The news comes less than a week after current host David Letterman announced his intention to retire in 2015. While the official pick answers one big question, it also creates several other unanswered ones. Questions like "what’s to happen to Colbert’s hit show the Colbert Report?" And "how exactly did they get him to leave it?"

And You’re All Coming With Me!

Like most late night show hosts, Colbert will be taking his team with him in the transition from Comedy Central to CBS Corporation (CBS) . Colbert reportedly told his staff a mere two hours before CBS broke the story that they’d be moving shows next year. None of the details have been hammered out yet. This includes where the new Late Show will be located, although one have to thinks it will remain in New York where both the Colbert Report is also located.

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Colbert seemed to be both an obvious pick and a bit of an anomaly. He makes sense in that he’s a big hit with “the Demo” of 18-49 year old viewers, and he already has a nearly decade-long track record as a host. However, he’s yet another white male in a medium – late-night television— that’s pretty short on both racial and gender diversity. Not to mention Colbert had already been pretty well ensconced in his little Comedy Central fiefdom; given a wide berth of creative freedom, a solid lead-in with the Daily Show, and the closest thing to complete job security that’s possible in show business. It all begs the question: why move when your home is so nice?

The Money, Of Course. Oh, and the Power.

In short, with a move to network comes network money. Colbert’s staff will get a nice pay bump, to be sure. But the real star of the deal is of course the star himself. Colbert doesn’t do too bad for himself, notching approximately $6 million a year as host of Colbert Report.

But that’s peanuts compared to network money. According to a New York Times article from 2009, Letterman made $20 million a year from hosting the Late Show. While Colbert probably won’t command that sort of money right off the bat, the deal he just inked with CBS is for five years, and coupled with licensing and inevitable syndication it will easily break $100 million in total.

Not to mention the power that comes with such a move. While one can find plenty of inventive ways to spend nine figures in New York on frivolities, what Colbert can really do now is start a production company with some real clout. Letterman’s production arm, Wolrdwide Pants, has been a major force in American comedy and was responsible for not just the Late Show but its follow-up, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.

The transition isn’t a guaranteed win quite yet. Colbert is leaving behind a massively influential show in the Colbert Report, one that won Emmys, Peabody Awards, and a devoted cult following. Not to mention it’s not entirely clear whether Colbert will play himself on the Late Show or do his caricature right-wing blowhard, and whether either of them would translate to network television.

But CBS seems pretty sure Colbert will do just fine and has just bet a sizable chunk of change on just that. Regardless, Colbert has just established himself as not just one of the richest men in entertainment but also one of the most powerful.

Here's Colbert in simpler times, when he was just a guest playing a character on the show he would eventually host:


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