How Chris Licht and Stephen Colbert Joined Forces to Reenergize The Late Show

By A.J. Katz 

One of the most bizarre political seasons in modern history has provided ample material for late night TV. And no on-air personality does political satire quite like Stephen Colbert. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been running on all cylinders in recent weeks, and it’s fair to give its executive producer Chris Licht at least a bit of credit for that. Yet, the process of running The Late Show hasn’t necessarily been a natural one for Licht.

In fact, according to a piece in the August 5th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, he was a bit stunned when he got that first call from CBS News president David Rhodes, informing him that he could be installed as showrunner for The Late Show. Licht had just landed in Houston for the 2015 Final Four when he received the call from Rhodes. “I think David wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going to be like, ‘No f—ing way am I going to do this, I’m a news guy.'” Any trepidation on Licht’s end would be understandable. He was executive producer of CBS This Morning at the time, and prior to arriving at CBS in 2011, he had been the creative force behind MSNBC’s hit program Morning Joe.

Needless to say, Licht was (and still is) a TV newser. But The Late Show was experiencing ratings struggles, even after its post-Super Bowl slot, and the higher-ups wanted a change. CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, Rhodes and Co. felt Licht was the right man for the job. At first, the longtime news producer was a bit uneasy about the potential change, but he became convinced after a meeting with Colbert and his agent, during which the group would consume multiple glasses of Macallan. It was during that meeting where Licht and Colbert would make a handshake deal. It was agreed that he wouldn’t tell Colbert how to do comedy, and Colbert wouldn’t tell him how to produce a TV show. “I remember thinking that meant something, the handshake,” recalled Licht. “I knew there was no not doing it.”