CBS moved quickly to replace
Colbert, whose current contract expires at year end, signed a five-year deal to host the show, which will begin when Letterman decides to step down when his contract expires in August 2015, though he could choose to leave earlier next year.
"Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career," Colbert said in a statement. "I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead. 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."
Colbert, 49, was an early favorite to succeed Letterman, 66, who last week announced plans to step down next year after a 33-year career in late night, including the last 11 on CBS, which he joined after losing to Jay Leno in his quest to replace another legend, Johnny Carson.
Colbert introduced his mock-conservative blowhard persona as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and got his own show (produced by Stewart) in 2005, which competes with Letterman at 11:30 ET/PT four nights a week but has a much higher concentration of the younger viewers that networks seek. CBS isn't talking yet about location, producer or "specific creative elements" of the new show, but Colbert is likely to shed that persona, which would be difficult to sustain in an hour-long network talk show.
The Daily Show has spawned successful careers for several of its correspondents, including Steve Carell, Ed Helms and John Oliver, who filled in for Stewart last summer, was approached by CBS last fall but signed a deal with HBO for a weekly show, Last Week Tonight, that premieres April 27. Ironically, he would have been a logical candidate to replace Colbert but left, he says, because "there's no space" at Comedy Central, he said Monday. "They already have three shows back to back."
"Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," said CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. "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."