Well, that was fast — Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman on “The Late Show.”
Colbert, currently the host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, will succeed Letterman as soon as the long-running host steps down in 2015, CBS confirmed Thursday morning. He just signed a five-year deal.
And no, for those wondering, he will not be taking his faux conservative cable show host character with him: He’ll be himself in this new gig.
“I won’t be doing the new show in character, so we’ll all get to find out how much of him was me,” Colbert said in a statement via CBS. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Last week, Letterman surprised his audience by announcing he was retiring sometime next year after three decades in late-night television. Colbert was immediately one of the names that popped up as a replacement, given his success in the late-night realm.
“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said in CBS’ announcement. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”
He added: “I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”
No word on how much influence Letterman had over the choice (though CBS entertainment chairman Nina Tassler told Entertainment Weekly that Letterman “was a part of this decision”), and he released a statement of his own on Thursday in support of Colbert.
“Stephen has always been a real friend to me,” Letterman said. “I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”
CBS appears very excited about their new hire. “Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” CBS chairman Les Moonves said. “David Letterman’s legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today’s announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night.”
Comedy Central were also supportive of Colbert, who has been a part of the network since he started appearing on “The Daily Show” in 1997; “The Colbert Report” launched in 2005. Execs indicated Colbert would leave sometime around the end of this year.
“Comedy Central is proud that the incredibly talented Stephen Colbert has been part of our family for nearly two decades,” the network said. “We look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking ‘Colbert Report’ and wish Stephen the very best.”
His fellow Comedy Central host, “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart, gave a ringing endorsement of Colbert just this week for Letterman’s job. Last year, “The Colbert Report” picked up the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series, and snapped “The Daily Show’s” 10-year streak of winning the award.
“He is a uniquely talented individual,” Stewart told Vulture.com. “He’s wonderful in ‘Colbert Report,’ but he’s got gears he hasn’t even shown people yet. He would be remarkable.”
Meanwhile, Letterman didn’t give a specific date for his departure. He said those details were still being worked out, but that it was time for him to leave the late-night desk, given that he had been there for half his life with shows on NBC and CBS.
While sharing the news last week with his studio audience, Letterman told a rambling anecdote about when he knew it was time to retire: Long story short, his heart wasn’t in it anymore. So he called Moonves and told him that he was ready to wrap it up.
“I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theater, all the people on the staff, everybody at home. Thank you very much,” Letterman told the crowd, giving his longtime bandleader Paul Shaffer a shout out. “And what this means now, is that Paul and I can be married.”
CBS said that “specific creative elements” for Colbert’s “Late Show” (such as location, producers and a writing staff) will be announced at a later date.
Other late-night hosts started to weigh in on Thursday:
Congratulations to the hugely talented and fragrant and lovely @StephenAtHome on the new gig. Welcome to the CBS funhouse.
— Craig Ferguson (@CraigyFerg) April 10, 2014
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 10, 2014
I’d like to welcome the great @StephenAtHome to network late night and also congratulate him on his new name: Jimmy Colbert.
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) April 10, 2014
Congratulations to @StephenAtHome! Could not have happened to a nicer guy
— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) April 10, 2014
(This post has been updated.)