CBS has named Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert to take over for David Letterman as host of "The Late Show" next year when Mr. Letterman retires.
The news caught many people off-guard, coming as quickly as it did after Mr. Letterman's surprise announcement last week that he was ending his decades-long run as a late-night host. Where NBC had seemed to plan for transitions at "The Tonight Show" like it was a succession to a throne, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves had seemed to have been caught unprepared for Mr. Letterman's departure.
But the speedy word that Mr. Colbert would take over the show suggests that Mr. Moonves had some plans in mind long before Mr. Letterman said he would exit.
"Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," Mr. Moonves said in a statement. "David Letterman's legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today's announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night."
The hire reunites Mr. Colbert with Mr. Moonves in a way: Mr. Colbert's "Colbert Report" runs at 11:30 on Comedy Central, part of Viacom, which split from CBS in 2006.
More importantly, it brings CBS an increasingly well-known host -- Mr. Colbert starred in Super Bowl commercials for Wonderful Pistachios this year -- with strong appeal among younger viewers.
It also delivers "The Late Show" into the hands of a comedian who's happy to both take sponsorship money and occasionally mock his benefactors. In 2012 Mr. Colbert mercilessly made fun of Wheat Thins, a sponsor, by reading its high-minded brand brief to the audience and viewers. The brief said the crackers are not "a creator of isolated, unsharable experiences," Mr. Colbert said. They are "a snack for anyone actively seeking experiences" and "a connector of like-minded people."
Kraft decided to consider the episode a net plus, but some advertisers might not be so calm.