With yet another late night TV talk show host set to retire, CBS is under pressure to finally break the long, tired tradition of exclusively placing white men in the post-prime-time talk show host's seat.
Craig Ferguson, host of the “Late Late Show,” announced his retirement on Monday, just a few weeks after David Letterman announced he would leave his post of 21 years as host of the “Late Show.”
CBS’ announcement that Stephen Colbert, a “Daily Show” veteran and host of “The Colbert Report,” would replace Letterman on the "Late Show" came so quickly that it seemed the decision had been made long before news of Letterman’s departure broke. But as for Ferguson’s replacement, CBS executives say they don’t have a clue as to who will take over the 12:35 a.m. time slot.
“We haven't really thought about it yet,” CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler told the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. "We want to let this sink in.”
Based on the response to Letterman’s retirement, it seems that CBS’ audience wants to see more diversity in late-night programming. After Letterman announced his departure, the Internet was awash with complaints that the late night landscape had been dominated by white men since the format emerged in the 1950s, and that it was high time for a more diverse group of hosts. Names like Aisha Tyler, W. Kamau Bell, and Amy Schumer have all been circulating as potential candidates.
CBS seems to be paying attention, and its CEO, Les Moonves, is on record saying that “A woman would be great in late night,” and Tassler said that diversity will be a consideration in choosing a new “Late Late Show” host.
CBS brass will have to factor in youth appeal when considering Ferguson’s replacement. Late night shows traditionally pull in older viewers, which, as a demographic group, are less attractive to advertisers than younger ones, and as NBC’s tag team of Jimmy Fallon at the “Tonight Show” and Seth Meyers at “Late Night” continue to dominate the ratings, CBS has to skew younger to remain competitive. There’s no question that this younger demographic will embrace a host who breaks the stale late-night mold.
Ferguson has maintained that his departure was not contentious and that he remains on good terms with CBS. While acknowledging that many will doubt his claim, the Scottish comedian insisted that the timing of his retirement announcement had nothing to do with Letterman’s exit or the fact that Ferguson was apparently not considered as a candidate for Letterman's replacement -- which was hardly a problem for Ferguson, who announced that he was not lobbying for the “Late Show” gig before Colbert was announced as his replacement.
And, per his contract, Ferguson will be paid a $5 million bonus -- nice work if you can (not) get it.