It’s official: CBS announced this morning that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman on Late Show sometime in 2015. While this sounds like a death knell for the wonderful Colbert Report (hashtag activism does work!), what’s more disappointing is that CBS replaced Letterman with another middle-aged white dude—a decision for which the excuse that Colbert tests well with audiences can’t justify, since he will reportedly drop his beloved conservative character for the role. (Whether he’ll anglicize the French-inflected last name as well is still TBD, but unlikely.) Was it the right call? Probably—Colbert is lovable, personable and a great interviewer. But the only people jumping for joy are the Report staff, whom Colbert is bringing with him to the new CBS digs.
Let’s be clear: no one actually expected CBS to make the renegade decision to replace Letterman with a woman, but that didn’t stop us all from speculating wildly about possible contenders, some of which seemed like slam dunks (Late Show with Tina & Amy? Yup.), others which seemed impossibly optimistic—Wanda Sykes, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer or Julie Klausner would’ve been incredible, but aren’t as universally adored as, say, Ellen Degeneres, another favorite. But the thing about Ellen, Tina and Amy is that they’re part of the teensy-tiny group of female comics that aren’t immediately despised by most of America simply by defying what we expect from women (for them not to be funny). Which is probably part of the reason why they’re far too busy killing it on their own daytime talk shows, hosting award ceremonies and making movies together (yay!) to bother with a behemoth like Late Show.
Amanda Hess at Slate makes a decent argument for why that’s the way it should be: “As a fan of comedy, I don’t care who fills David Letterman’s chair, because I don’t watch that stuff. Why would I, when a diverse group of comics are already doing much more exciting work in essentially every other medium?” There’s truth to that, considering those of us who do spend our evenings at stand-up shows or digging around YouTube to discover the next Broad City aren’t the ones glued to the TV at 11:30 on a Friday night (okay, maybe we are, but it’s not to watch David Letterman interview Miley Cyrus, or whatever it is that goes on on network television). Late Show, its peers and by extension network sitcoms, exist to entertain the people who don’t follow comedy or live in an area with a good comedy scene. But the argument that CBS couldn’t have picked a more progressive candidate to replace Letterman is weakened now that Twitter and Netflix provide instant access to a diverse world of comedy for anyone—not just UCB or PIT nerds—to enjoy. While Late Show with Stephen Colbert will surely be a hit, and in all likelihood a deserving one, it’s too bad that the New York institution won’t reflect the changes that are happening in its funniest industry.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa