For more than nine years, Stephen Colbert earned acclaim over at Comedy Central for The Colbert Report, a show that married satire with the news. For his troubles, by the end of his run the host was making a plum $6 million a year. His new gig running The Late Show over at CBS puts him in front of more eyeballs on a more prominent network. But as it turns out, Colbert took a pay cut to get there.
As Stephen Colbert is ushering in a new late night era over at CBS this week, we’ve taken a look at his salary. The man signed a three-year contract that will allow him to make $4.6 million a year. That’s a lot of money compared to the layman, but it’s also $1.4 million less than what he was making for a much less prestigious cable show. It’s also way less than David Letterman was making in the same timeslot. Mediaite notes that Letterman made around $20 million last year, so CBS is presumably saving a bundle with the network’s newest host.
They are also taking a big gamble. While Colbert the character has had a lot of experience, Stephen Colbert is relatively new to the late night scene in terms of a buttoned up dude who can bring in a ton of viewers. We’ll have to wait and see if he manages to engage a large section of the audience, but early numbers look good. Last night’s premiere brought in a whopping 4.9 rating—123% higher than Letterman’s season premiere last year. Those numbers are bound to drop over the next several weeks, but it’s safe to say there is interest in what Stephen Colbert can do with the timeslot.
While Colbert was a deal compared to some other late night hosts, I think the key here is that the potential to earn is much higher on the network channel, provided Stephen Colbert can prove he’s a good long-term option for the late night slot over at CBS. For instead, Jimmy Kimmel, who has been in the late night slot over at ABC since 2003, makes $10 million per year for work on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. His main competitor, Jimmy Fallon, makes $12 million over at The Tonight Show on NBC. So, if Colbert can manage to become an institution at CBS, the cap for the amount of money he can potentially make is much more than what he made at Comedy Central. It’s just that he has a lot more to prove.
If you’d like to get a look at what Colbert’s version of The Late Show looks like, you can check out part of his monologue, below.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs on weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET, only on CBS. In addition, you can catch the full first episode here and see who is set to appear over the next few days.