Chicago media at odds on Colbert coup

David Letterman and Stephen Colbert

David Letterman and Stephen Colbert

Chicago may be Jimmy Fallon’s kind of town, but David Letterman and Stephen Colbert have plenty of faithful viewers here too.

News of CBS signing Colbert to a five-year deal Thursday to succeed David Letterman as host of “The Late Show” in 2015 elicited high fives among fans in Chicago, where Colbert trained at Second City after graduating from Northwestern University. Since 2005, he’s been host and executive producer of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.

The latest Nielsen ratings show Letterman draws twice the overall viewership of Colbert in Chicago, with “The Late Show” garnering a 2.1 rating (74,000 households) for its first half-hour versus a 1.0 rating (37,000 households) for “The Colbert Report.” Fallon’s “Tonight Show” on NBC leads in late nights here with a 4.8 rating (170,000 households).

Among viewers in the highly desirable 18-to-49 demographic, Colbert has the edge over Letterman, while the two are virtually tied in the 25-to-54 demo.

In Chicago media circles, response ranged from extremely enthusiastic to downright disappointed. Here’s a sampling of local reaction from blogs, Twitter and Facebook:

  • Lori Rackl, TV critic, Sun-Times: You could say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” But broadcast’s late-night talk shows, like most shows, have seen their audiences erode over the years. The white guy model hardly has been proven to be a panacea in the increasingly fragmented television market. Even so, broadcast networks clearly are afraid to deviate from the script and carry over the diversity that’s prevalent on the daytime chatfest circuit into the later hours at night.
  • Jimmy Greenfield, ChicagoNow community manager, Chicago Tribune: Colbert may not beat Fallon in the ratings, but he will be must-see TV right away. He'll reinvent himself as himself. Fear not. . . . I never thought his show would work as a full-time character, and of course it was brilliant. He'll be amazing and he's an awesome interviewer.
  • Dean Richards, entertainment critic, WGN-Channel 9, WGN AM 720: Happy!
  • Bill Zwecker, celebrity columnist, Sun-Times, Fox 32: What a great choice!
  • Eric Ferguson, morning personality, WTMX FM 101.9: I like Kimmel. Fallon is okay. But I grew up on Letterman. Granted, those are big shoes to fill. I'm curious about the selection of Stephen Colbert to replace him. Colbert is talented and funny. . . . I'm not disputing that. My question? Is he mass appeal enough for that job? His act is perfect for niche programming like Comedy Central, but does it translate to 10:30 on CBS?
  • Rob Johnson, news anchor, WBBM-Channel 2: Obviously I want to see Colbert knock it out of the park for CBS. I believe he is brilliant at irony, but not sure how that nuanced humor will fly with mainstream audience.
  • Julie Hammerle, ChicagoNow blogger: My knee-jerk reaction is that I don't like it. My negativity has nothing to do with (well, not everything to do with) the fact that the hiring is completely uncreative. It's just another middle-aged white guy (granted, a very personable and talented middle-aged white guy) in a sea of other middle-aged white guys.
  • Dennis Byrne, Chicago columnist, ChicagoNow blogger: "Another middle-aged white guy"? Tiresome? Then how about yet another liberal talk show host? Jay Leno wasn't a flaming conservative, but even-handed enough to joke about both sides, so NBC had to get rid of him. Colbert's "genius" is nothing more than playing to stereotypes that liberal ideologues love to have about conservatives.
  • Natasha Korecki, political editor, Sun-Times: Woo hoo!
  • Bob Stroud, midday personality, WDRV FM 97.1: Comedy and comedians are subjective. We all love comedy but we don't all love the same comedian or comic style, so the Colbert choice is going to have to play out to see if he appeals to a mass audience. He's extremely bright and intelligent ala Letterman, so the possibility is there. I wouldn't write him off. He didn't get to where he is by dumb luck.
  • Scott Powers, entertainment editor, Chicago Tribune: Stephen Colbert replacing Letterman is another coup for Chicago comedy.
  • Darel Jevens, entertainment editor, Sun-Times: I was kinda hoping it would be someone lame to free up some hours in my week. No such luck.
  • Roger Simon, chief political columnist, What makes me think Jay Leno is already trying to get Stephen Colbert's show. As if.