We know Rush Limbaugh’s not a fan, but what does the rest of the commentary class think about the announcement that Stephen Colbert will take over the CBS “Late Show” for David Letterman in 2015? The initial reaction is strongly positive, with only a few critics wondering if Colbert can succeed without the comically abrasive persona he’s honed over nearly a decade on “The Colbert Report.” (Stephen Colbert is going to CBS; “Stephen Colbert” is just going away.) Where the fond tributes to David Letterman, who announced his retirement last week, tacitly acknowledged that he was past his prime, critics looking forward to Colbert’s “Late Show” — the name, CBS has made clear, is staying — see him still at his peak. The further announcement that the “Report” writing staff will be coming with him quells any initial doubts I might have. Sure, the late-night format is tired, but Colbert and has shown true genius for standing that format on its head, right down to replacing the traditional guest walk-on with his victory lap to the interview table. Of course, Colbert’s “Late Show” won’t be “The Colbert Report,” but it also won’t be “The Tonight Show,” or “Late Night,” or perhaps anything we’ve seen before. With Letterman’s ratings as Jimmy Fallon’s rise, CBS knows it needs to shake up the format, and chances are good that’s just what they’ve asked Colbert to do.
James Poniewozik, Time
The guy’s got a lot of tools in his box, and his fake pundit isn’t the only thing he can do with them. Nor is politics, as anyone knows who’s watched him geek out on-air over Tolkien, or roller-dance with Bryan Cranston to “Get Lucky.” Just please God, don’t let that thing be a middle-of-the-road, Hollywood-centric, let’s-roll-a-clip, something-for-everyone 11:35 p.m. talk show. Colbert is smart, quick, personable and likeable, but that likeability comes from — weird as this is to say about someone who’s hosted a show in character for nine years — authenticity. Take that away and you take away everything.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland
The real Stephen Colbert, like “Stephen Colbert,” is lightning fast and wickedly funny, but he’s nowhere near as wicked: His own perspective on the world more closely mirrors the frustrated, noble liberalism of his colleague Jon Stewart than the puffed-up buffoonery peddled by his alter ego. So while CBS has absolutely snatched up a virtuosic talent, they won’t be getting the character that has, until now, defined him. In the long term, this is a good thing: CBS, as outlined above, is not interested in making waves. They want a talk show host, not a sentient political parody. But when Colbert takes “The Late Show” reins in 2015, he will be doing something quite different from what his legion of coveted 18-to-49-year-old fans have come to expect from him. And this uncertainty makes his hiring more of a risk that it might initially seem.
Peter Rubin, Wired
Colbert has a shot at overhauling CBS’ image as That Network For Old People and Dummies. He’s also proven time and time again that he generates online buzz, draws heavyweight guests, and can even dredge up some gravitas when need be. But that’s the Stephen of “The Colbert Report,” a blowhard persona who allowed Colbert to skewer dogmatic thinking in an Andy Kaufman-level act of character immersion. The man who signed a contract to host the CBS 11:30 p.m. talk show is not that guy. Instead, he’s smart and genial fellow who’s a good enough actor and improviser to pull off breathtaking satire, but has never spent any appreciable time on camera.
Willa Paskin, Slate
Colbert is a huge talent. To do what he has done at “The Colbert Report” is the equivalent, to paraphrase a remark about Ginger Rogers, of hosting a show every night, backwards and in heels. His wit, speed, charm, mischievousness, ear for hypocrisy, and ridiculousness are now free to operate without constraints — and the constraint I’m most glad he is free of is the one of persona.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
Yes, fans of Colbert “in character” will miss his show, but the truth is that the format, despite being an excellent vehicle that launched Colbert to stardom, was far too limiting for Colbert’s talent. He’s absolutely going to blossom with this new freedom. From his time on “Strangers With Candy” to “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” he’s shown his comedic talent in various forms with an improved performer’s fluidity. That considerable talent will make him instantly watchable doing his own taped (and live) skits on The Late Show, plus it will serve him well behind the desk doing interviews.
Mike Ryan, ScreenCrush
I attended the third ever episode of “The Colbert Report” and before the show started – as is the case with most television shows with a studio audience – the host will come out and take questions. Today, Colbert even does this in character, but back then, he didn’t. I was one of three audience members to ask Colbert a question and, each time, he came off as a very charming, very gracious, and very likable guy. I have no doubt that the real Colbert will win over audiences.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
As a fan of Colbert, I’m happy he’s got a higher-profile job that will almost certainly pay him more money. But I’m also disappointed to be losing the fictional Colbert, especially if his “Late Show” winds up being similar to Dave’s “Late Show,” and Conan’s various shows, Fallon’s “Tonight,” Jimmy Kimmel’s show, etc. Lots of people can successfully host “Late Show.” Very few could pull off the high-wire act Colbert’s been doing for close to a decade. I expect he’ll be an excellent host, but I fear it’ll also be a waste of his talent.
Tim Grierson, Rolling Stone
Colbert has already made it clear that his “Late Show” won’t feature the satirical Colbert character, which has caused some fans of “The Colbert Report” to be concerned that we’re losing a beloved friend. But that doesn’t seem entirely out of keeping with those who, 21 years ago, worried that Letterman would somehow lose his edge transitioning from 12:30 to 11:30. That turned out pretty well, and so might this, especially since Colbert’s brilliance extends far beyond his character.