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Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman as host of The Late Show

'The Colbert Report' star, best-selling author and former Presidential candidate is CBS's choice to replace the retiring Letterman

Comedian Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, will replace David Letterman as the face of The Late Show when Letterman retires next year, CBS has announced. Colbert, who is 49, has reportedly signed a five-year deal with the network.

Letterman, the longest-serving of all late-night hosts, has been a feature of the US evening schedules for more than 30 years. He announced his forthcoming exit during the recording of the 3 April edition of The Late Show, which he has fronted since 1993.

Several names were suggested to replace him, including Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres, whose daytime talk-show Ellen has collected 36 Daytime Emmy Awards; and Chelsea Handler, host of Chelsea Lately, who recently announced her intention to leave the E! channel when her contract expires. Yet Colbert was always considered the favourite for the spot.

The Late Show is perhaps the grandest setting imaginable for the comedian to finally shed the fake, ultra-conservative “Stephen Colbert” persona that he has cultivated with such success on The Colbert Report since its debut on Comedy Central in 2005. The show has won four Emmys: one for Outstanding Variety Series and three for Outstanding Writing. In the meantime, its host has published several bestselling books and even run for President.

Before launching his own show, Colbert spent eight years as a correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, whose host Jon Stewart was also thought of as a potential replacement for Letterman. Stewart and Colbert's cable shows attract a greater audience share in the crucial 18 to 49 age demographic than any of their broadcast network rivals, including The Late Show and NBC's The Tonight Show, for which Jimmy Fallon recently took over hosting duties from Jay Leno.

In a statement, Leslie Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS, said, “Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television. 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.”

Colbert himself added, “Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career. I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead.”