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April 10, 2014

Steven Colbert will take over for Letterman

NEW YORK (AP) — The future is Stephen Colbert.

The Comedy Central talk-show star was named Thursday to replace David Letterman when he steps down from CBS' "Late Show" next year.

But what about the past and the present? Let's try for a little historical perspective by comparing the late night landscape that greets Colbert's announcement against the world in which "Late Show" was born:

— THEN: Dave arrived in the 11:35 p.m. slot on Aug. 30, 1993, with a startup venture for CBS going up against NBC's venerable "Tonight Show," where Jay Leno had already reigned for 15 months.

Apart from those arch-rivals, broadcast TV had only four other players in late night comedy-talk: Letterman's old haunt, "Late Night," where Conan O'Brien would soon preside, followed by "Later With Bob Costas," plus the syndicated "Arsenio Hall Show." Also, debuting a week later, "The Chevy Chase Show" aired for just a month on Fox. And none of the hosts was named Jimmy.

— NOW: There are at least 11 such shows on broadcast or cable, with roughly 18 percent of them hosted by a Jimmy.

— THEN: Although three-fourths of TV homes had VCRs (enabling a "late night" show to be time-shifted to any hour, day or night), almost no one knew how to program them, or had even gotten around to setting the clock. And no one owned a digital video recorder — maybe because it hadn't been invented yet.

— NOW: Roughly half of TV homes (whether with or without VCRs) are equipped with DVRs, which further undermines the meaning of "late night": Most of these shows are taped around dusk, then plugged into a late night slot where they're available for a viewer to retrieve and watch whenever the mood strikes. With TV, "late night" is more a state of mind than a time of day.

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