Editorial: The Late Greats

David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are all now gone from the platforms that made them stars and touchstones for a couple of generations. Colbert is coming back, of course, in Letterman’s old spot, but not as the Colbert we have come to know and love. Maybe we will love him more, but it will be a kinder, gentler Colbert.

We’re used to actors playing parts in TV comedies, but Colbert was so good we often forgot he was playing a role. He’s said he feels freed from the character, but when he’s out from behind the mask, what will we make of the real Stephen Colbert?

Larry Wilmore is already turning some heads with his topical takes—a longish clip of Wilmore was part of a news comedy compilation at the Newseum when we last checked—while Trevor Noah will have to prove himself in the Daily Show anchor chair.

We wish them luck, but as we do so we mark the closing of one of the most intriguing chapters in the late-night genre. While the whole NBC host-go-round of recent vintage played out—Letterman was, of course, part of an earlier go-round, but that was a couple of decades ago—Dave matured, sort of, into the role of elder statesmen, while Stewart and then Colbert created a new mockumentary freshness to topical commentary that future faux newsmen will be measured by.