CBS Settles On Unusual Strategy To Fill Letterman's Time Slot Until Colbert Is Ready

It’ll be a long time before we see anything on CBS’ late night schedule that was as moving and powerful as the Late Show’s final montage during David Letterman’s last episode. And the network won’t even be trying, as it’s taken a somewhat odd approach to filling the pre-Late Late Show with James Corden gap on the way to Stephen Colbert taking over later this year. Instead of figuring out a way to work anything talk show-related into it, they’re just airing drama repeats.

In the weeks prior to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s debut on September 8, CBS is airing episodes of its most popular dramas, with The Mentalist having taken on the first shift until early June. They will then begin airing shows such as NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, Scorpion, and Blue Bloods. It seems like it might be a damaging way to lead in to James Corden’s show, which is slowly growing in popularity, but CBS isn’t worried.

Hoping that the audiences stick around after their summer shows – Under the Dome, Extant and Zoo – here’s how CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tessler explained the decision to AdWeek.

We think there are still plenty of eyeballs out there to catch up on our freshman hits. We also think James, having built a fan base already, he’s got great momentum in terms of the circulation on the viral clips. So, there’s a lot of attention put on him right now. We have a lot of people watching CBS during the summer and a lot of people that will watch him at 12:20.

Given that Letterman’s Worldwide Pants owned his Late Show library, there was no chance of any of the retired icon’s episodes getting the repeat treatment. It’s still strange, however, that CBS execs didn’t follow in their own footsteps by letting a revolving door of celebrities take on guest-hosting spots, the same way they did in between Craig Ferguson’s absence and Corden’s arrival. I guess they were too busy throwing all of the Late Show furniture and set dressing out.

Another option would have been to just move Corden’s show forward an hour, giving him access to an audience that might not stay up so late. But really, that might not have had a longterm effect, if his new viewers just stopped watching once Colbert took over, and then his normal audience would have had to shift their own viewing schedules.

Summer TV used to be all about repeats anyway, so it’s not like CBS’ plan is truly crazy. Their shows are among the most highly-rated programs on TV, and their heavy promotional campaign for The Late Show during the next few months should result in Stephen Colbert getting an enviable crowd when he takes over.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.