CBS hires an "unknown" to replace Letterman

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File photo: Stephen Colbert during a performance at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, 29 April 2006.

As you've probably heard (unless you're looking with CNN for those underwater pings), CBS announced today that Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman on "The Late Show" when Letterman retires next year. For the last eight years, Comedy Central has featured a hilarious, groundbreaking show at 11:30 featuring "Stephen Colbert," a buffoonish but oddly lovable right-wing character that, as you might have guessed, is portrayed by the Stephen Colbert hired yesterday by CBS.

In other words, the persona that America (except for this guy, apparently) has come to love is going to live on a farm upstate, or something. CBS and Comedy Central say that that Colbert will host "The Late Show" as himself -- a smart, boyish Sunday school teacher with a great sense of humor (and a great team of writers, who are staying with him). Simply put, he is a largely unknown quantity. CBS doesn't really know exactly what it's getting for its millions...nor do we.

I do know what we're losing, and I mourn its passing. "Stephen Colbert" understood that the only real fresh way to satirize our warped political discourse was not to look down upon it but to embrace it. That allowed him to push boundaries -- once in a while it went off the tracks, and other times his targets hated it nearly as much as we loved it. But it was absurdism for a very, very absurd time.

Colbert is killing off his character at the top of his game -- and that's probably smart. On CBS, the "real" Colbert will be sweetly acerbic, and maybe throw in a song or two. Sounds like a slightly funnier Jimmy Fallon...but these twisted times deserve better. Here's to hoping that the real Stephen Colbert surprises America as much as the fake one did.

Meanwhile, I guess I'll have to figure out what the hell channel CBS is on.

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