NEW YORK (AP) — Toward the end of Stephen Colbert’s first season as “Late Show” host, CBS said Wednesday it has assigned the producer who reinvented the network’s morning news show to take over as top behind-the-scenes executive at the late-night comedy program.
Chris Licht, who has run “CBS This Morning” since 2012, is making the unusual shift. His job as “Late Show” executive producer is a new one; Colbert has essentially been running the show along with being the lead performer.
“I am so impressed by what he has done at ‘CBS This Morning,'” Colbert said. “And I trust someone has told him he doesn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. anymore.”
Licht, who came to CBS from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” helped make CBS a player in the morning for the first time in ages. The show is still third behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” show in the ratings, but is growing in viewership while the others aren’t.
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The move doesn’t mean Colbert’s “Late Show” is becoming a news program, although he tends to be more topical than his late-night network rivals.
CBS won’t publicly admit to any dissatisfaction with how Colbert has made the transition from playing a character every night on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to himself on his own talk show. But a move this significant doesn’t get made if everything is going smoothly.
After a fast start last fall, Colbert generally runs neck-and-neck with ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel for second in the late-night ratings behind NBC’s “Tonight” show host Jimmy Fallon. Colbert’s show tends to be time-shifted more than his rivals, helping him in the ratings if a more extended view is taken. So far this season in viewing done live or within seven days after, Fallon averages 3.81 million viewers, Colbert 2.94 million and Kimmel 2.43, the Nielsen company said.
“I think the show is such a sad echo of what Stephen Colbert was doing over at the show that he was perfectly born to do,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.
It was fine for Colbert to dominate “The Colbert Report” so heavily because it fit with the character of a self-obsessed cable show host. But on the “Late Show,” he needs to take his foot off the gas and leave more space for guests and co-workers, Thompson said. Having another voice like Licht’s will both add perspective and take some pressure off the host, he said.
Colbert’s show also needs to be more aggressive producing bite-sized material that can spread swiftly online, which is how many people experience late-night shows these days, Thompson said.
“It hasn’t been a triumph but neither has it been a train wreck,” he said. “It needs tweaking, and it seems like they’re aware of it, because this is a pretty big tweak.”
Licht was not immediately available for an interview.
“You can’t work in this business without being in awe of Stephen Colbert and his talents,” he said in a statement. “The chance to work with Stephen and help build a valuable late-night franchise, while continuing to grow at CBS, is truly an honor. I can’t wait to get started.”
While unusual, the move from news to entertainment isn’t unprecedented. Jeff Zucker, now chief executive at CNN, was the top producer at NBC’s “Today” show when he was named to run the network’s entertainment division.
Ryan Kadro, who has been a co-executive producer of “CBS This Morning” with Licht, will take over the show on his own.