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In theory, it shouldn’t really matter whether a talk show host gets along with his predecessor, but as we’ve learned numerous times, the smooth, friendly handoffs feel a whole lot better. It’s nice to think of the departing legend as rooting for continued success, and if tonight’s interview is any indication, no one will be rooting harder for Stephen Colbert than David Letterman.
The current host of The Colbert Report and future host of The Late Show stopped by for a nice friendly chat with David Letterman this evening, and rather than going as over the top as he usually does, Stephen Colbert decided to play the interview pretty straight. He made it very clear to all of the fans watching exactly how appreciative he is of the opportunity, and he told some really beautiful stories about his family, about applying to be an intern on the show back in 1986, about applying as a writer in 1997 and about why he has to tell jokes. Perhaps more importantly, he made it very clear just how in awe he remains of all the late night legend has accomplished.
This picture is pretty good evidence of that…
You would think this is how it always should be, but the sad truth is it’s not. Johnny Carson was bitterly disappointed about how NBC handled The Tonight Show in his wake. He wanted David Letterman to take over. They picked Jay Leno, and while Carson went on Letterman’s show, he never sat down opposite his actual predecessor. Initially, there was a least a faint appearance of cooperation between Conan O’Brien and Leno, but not long after the hand-off took place, Leno started campaigning to get his old job back, which set off one of the most disgusting and ugly feuds in late night history.
But not this. This transition is one we can be proud of. David Letterman seems ready to go, and while we’ll all miss him dearly and owe him a great debt for forever changing comedy and late night television, there won’t be any guilt in rooting for Stephen Colbert. Why? Because no one will be waving the rally towel more than Letterman himself.
If nothing else, that security to be happy for his replacement is yet another reminder of why Letterman is brilliant at his job and almost universally beloved.