Is Late Night TV the Next Partisan Battleground?

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been doing unabashed liberal satire for years.  But aside from Comedy Central’s lineup, late night talk show hosts have made every effort to remain politically apathetic, often coming across as more neutral than the major news networks.  But the times they are a-changing.

With CBS’s recent announcement that Colbert will take over for retiring late night heavyweight David Letterman in 2015, political slant in late night network TV has become a hot topic for many conservative commentators.

Conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh made waves this week, and not in the way that he normally does by diving into the ocean.  Limbaugh made the statement that CBS has “declared war on the heart of America” by selecting Colbert as Letterman’s successor.  Limbaugh has always been a giant blowhard, but his comments are catching a lot of traction.

This is a symptom of a climate where literally everything is a political statement.  It’s not just about who you vote for.  What you read, watch, and even where you eat implies a political leaning at this point.  The problem is that despite what political inferences we’re inclined to draw, people generally make those decisions without considering politics.  And that’s what’s going on in this case.

Colbert was an obvious choice for CBS.  He’s an established name with a proven track record.  And more important, his audience is young.

CBS has long been the network with the oldest audience overall.  The popular thinking seems to be that they should’ve chosen a host who’s already popular with the older crowd, like Drew Carey or Craig Ferguson.  But that’s a loser’s mentality.  CBS doesn’t want to maintain the status quo, they want to dominate the late night TV landscape.  And the way to get on top is not to maintain your current audience, it’s to go after everybody else’s.

By choosing a guy who’s already well known and appreciated by the 18 to 35 crowd, you set your guns on Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, who have basically nurtured non-threatening middle-aged guy image to the point of self-parody.  Colbert would do well to rattle a few cages by getting political or, even more daring, just being honest on air.

Only time will tell, but presumably Colbert will try to shake his political image when he takes over for Letterman.  He’s already stated that he plans on doing the show as himself rather than his satirical dopey conservative character.  Too bad, it would be fun to see a late night talk show hosted by someone who actually admits that he’s a complete phony.

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