Tassler: Colbert Came to Us

CBS announced Thursday that Stephen Colbert will take over for David Letterman as host of Late Show in 2015. In an interview with B&C, CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler discussed how Colbert entered the running for the late-night post, the role Letterman played in choosing a successor, and the fate of Craig Ferguson—whose Late Late Show is produced by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Inc. and follows Late Show at 12:30 a.m.

When did you first reach out to Stephen Colbert?

Well basically, they came to us. James Dixon [Colbert’s agent] came to us. The important thing to remember is that Dave gave us that one-year extension, and in the back of our minds, we knew at some point the day was going to come. Obviously the world changed the night Dave announced his retirment. There was a lot incoming, and Stephen’s name quickly rose to the top of the list.

How confident are you in his ability to do a late-night talk show without relying on the persona that he’s employed at The Colbert Report?

He’s extremely smart, as we’ve all seen over the years. Granted, it’s been within the context of that character. But I have to tell you, I just got an email from my old roommate in college, who’s a theater professor at Northwestern, and that’s Stephen’s alma mater. She said, “It’s a good day for Northwestern.” He’s a trained actor, he comes out of Second City. He’s accomplished in terms of entertainment and politics and publishing and music. He’s a renaissance man, and the excitement and the enthusiasm we have for what he’s going to create at 11:30 is pretty great. We’ve had the smartest guy in late night for many years, and replacing Dave was no small feat. We feel that Stephen really respects Dave’s legacy.

Will the new show continue to be produced by Worldwide Pants, and what will [Late Show executive producer] Rob Burnett’s role be?

We own the show. We own the title. In terms of executive producers and other creative elements, those will be disclosed at a later date.

Craig Ferguson's contract will be coming up this year. Do you have any immediate plans regarding the 12:30 slot? 

We’ve been laser focused on 11:30, and we’re dealing with one hour of late night at a time. We’ll focus on 12:30 later, but right now the focus is on 11:30.

Did you talk to Dave about Stephen before the decision was made?

He was a part of the decision. He blessed it. He has been extremely gracious, and he was a big part of it.

What do you think Stephen brings to the table that might differentiate his show from what Jimmy Fallon is doing at NBC or Jimmy Kimmel is doing at ABC?

He’s obviously demonstrated that he’s got a very unique persona. His wit and style has really allowed him to create his own format. His skill and his taste have always distinguished him from everyone else in late night, and we think that he is a contrast to the other guys that are out there. But more importantly, we felt that he fit quite elegantly into who we are as a network. We’re the Tiffany Network. We’re thrilled to have him as a part of the family.

Do you expect the show to be more topical, to delve into politics more than other late-night shows might, given his background as a satirist?

I don’t know the particulars of the creative, but I would speculate that as we head into an election year, he’s going to have a tremendous amount of fun. I think it is an area of interest for him, and he’s well-versed and skilled to discuss the topic.

There was some public call from people such as Lena Dunham, who addressed this on Twitter, who viewed this as an opportunity to get more female voices, more diverse voices into late night. Was that a consideration, given that we’ll now continue to have three white men in the late night slots at the networks?

I just have a couple of things to say about that. One is, as I said, we talked about everyone. There was a lot of names that came to us post-Dave’s announcement. One name obviously stood out above the rest. And as a broadcast network, you have to look at the diversity issue across the full spectrum of the schedule. I think you look at every one of our dayparts, and we have diversity across the entire schedule. Ultimately you make the decision about hiring the best person for the job, and we felt Stephen was that guy.