For once, the biggest buzz at CBS centers on its late-night shows, not prime time.
"We have a big, big, big year ahead in late night. It's a year of transition," network president Nina Tassler told the Television Critics Association winter press tour today. Tassler set some of that transition in motion by announcing that Late Show With Stephen Colbert will premiere Tuesday, Sept. 8. (David Letterman's final Late Show broadcast will be on Wednesday, May 20.)
"With an election year ahead, it's going to be nice to have the smartest guy in the room on at 11:30," said Tassler of Colbert, adding that because his production office is just getting started—with his The Colbert Report team following him from Comedy Central to CBS—much of the Late Show format remains up in the air.
Colbert will have music and guests on the show, but "whether or not he's going to start with an opening monologue, he's working on that right now," said Tassler. "But clearly he knows that he is introducing the real Stephen Colbert to his audience. And he's really putting a lot of attention on making sure the show is still topical, is still relevant."
Tassler said she is open to throwing out much of the traditional talk show format if that's what Colbert wants, explaining that part of CBS getting into business with him was about "really letting him do what he wants to do. We're sitting back and waiting for him to come to us and say what he has in mind." Still, she said, "I think there will be parts [that are] traditional, in some context, and then there are things where he's going to want to try something else."
To fill the three-and-a-half-month gap between Letterman and Colbert, CBS is taking the surprising step of airing repeats of its prime-time series in the 11:30 p.m. time slot (Tassler is still deciding which ones), rather than using Late Show guest hosts. "I think that we have an opportunity with our hits to introduce them to a new audience over the summer," said Tassler, who will be airing three scripted series during the summer months. "Which kind of gets people in the mood for watching scripted content at 11:30 at night. And James [Corden, the new Late, Late Show host] will be on at 12:30."
The decision to schedule "encore presentations" at 11:30 p.m. over the summer comes as CBS' prime-time schedule boasts fewer repeats than ever: 64 additional hours of originals this year between September and May.
"More than 80 percent of our season is now original programming, up 71 percent from last year," said Tassler. "In total, we have 611 hours of original entertainment, news and sports planned for prime time, and that doesn't even include summer."
Joining Colbert in late night is the aforementioned Corden, who will kick off his show on March 23. After considering "so many talented and diverse people" to follow Craig Ferguson, Tassler said she and Les Moonves settled on the British actor, comedian and star of Into the Woods in part because of how terrific he is in the interview format.
"He exudes such warmth," said Tassler of his work on the Sky1 comedy/sports panel show A League of Their Own. "This guy, it doesn't matter who he talks to, they just fall under his spell. He's enchanting."