Good call. Colbert is a one-trick pony.
Indeed, one trick only: sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm. Only tool in his box.
Colbert has been “impersonating” a conservative talk show host on Comedy Central for years, so no one knows what he is really like. So, people will tune in to see that character and wonder what happened to the guy they used to watch.
You nailed it...this has epic fail written all over it. Conan O’Brien can relax, because he won’t go down as the biggest disaster in the history of late night TV.
A couple of thoughts: first, the quick signing of Colbert indicates that CBS had been talking to him for quite a while; deals of this magnitude don’t get done in less than a week. So Letterman must have told Les Moonves his retirement plans a few months ago, or the network laid out a plan that made his departure inevitable.
Once upon a time, Letterman had the sweetest deal of any late-night host since Johnny Carson. His production company produced “Late Night,” and kept most of the profits. CBS got a relatively small share and fronted most of the production costs. At one point, Letterman’s annual take from the show as $30 million. He also controlled the 12:30 time slot, producing the Late, Late Show and selecting the host for that program.
In recent years, CBS has taken a much greater equity stake in the show (ad split is 50/50, if I’m not mistaken), and the network has taken control of the Late, Late Show. It was disclosed a few days ago that Craig Ferguson is negotiating a new contract with CBS, and not Letterman’s production company. At best, Ferguson gets a pay cut; at worst, he loses the show, since Jimmy Fallon beat him almost every night and Seth Meyers is continuing that trend.
With the financial changes, Letterman’s take from the show is around $20 million a year. That still puts him firmly in the 1% group he routinely mocks, but it’s a big drop from his old pay scale. And Dave knew the hand-writing was on the wall when he asked for only a one-year contract extension and CBS wasted no time in accepting the offer. If the network envisioned Letterman as a long-term presence, they would have offered a muti-year contract.
Secondly, Colbert may get some sort of production deal out of CBS, but it’s clear he will never get the dollars—or clout—that Letterman had at the network. In fact, CBS is probably looking forward to making more money in the time slot. Colbert will be hard-pressed to equal Letterman’s ratings, but with a lower salary for the host (and CBS controlling the lion’s share of the profits), they will actually improve the bottom line, even if their replacement delivers a smaller audience.
So, Colbert will be a long-term disaster; he could pull a Katie Couric and linger for five years before they pull the plug. With CBS dominating prime time, the ad revenue from late night isn’t as important. One reason Conan got the hook so quickly at NBC is their primetime line-up was a disaster and they couldn’t afford the drain that O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” was placing on their revenues.