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CBS' post-Letterman plans stir local debate over delay in Colbert start

I hadn’t realized there were so many broadcast network television programmers in Western New York until David Letterman retired.

Let me explain.

Over the weekend, Channel 4 meteorologist Don Paul started an exchange with his Facebook followers over CBS’ decision to replace Letterman this summer with network dramas starting with “The Mentalist.”

Paul thought it was a dumb idea not to immediately begin the Stephen Colbert era at CBS rather than wait until September and give viewers more time to fall in love with the two Jimmys – Fallon and Kimmel – who will be his late-night rivals.

“There are two schools of thought,” wrote Paul on Facebook Friday. “Les Moonves thinks summer is a waste of time in which to debut their benchmark new show, with low viewership. While Moonves knows TV programming as well as anyone alive, I feel he is dead wrong on this one. Fallon already has been gaining the upper edge and HE’s not going away for summer vacation. He will ensconce himself still further with younger demos, making it difficult for Colbert – after an initial startup surge – to reverse that momentum. Steven (sic) could have been conducting dry runs for weeks. He should have started his new show last night, not in September. … CBS will be paying the price for this miscalculation for years to come, no matter how good Colbert is.”

Needless to say, Paul’s followers were almost in unanimous agreement with him and a few added it would have been better to air Letterman reruns or temporarily put new “Late, Late Show” host James Corden in the 11:35 p.m. time slot.

There was one follower who disagreed and debated with Paul.

That would be me.

I’m not saying it would have been my decision to delay Colbert’s start and that I don’t sympathize with viewers’ frustrations, but I certainly understand CBS’ decision to wait about three months to get him on the air.

I wish CBS’ Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, who reports to CBS Corp. chief exeutive officer Moonves, would have explained why the network is waiting to premiere Colbert to see if there any extra reasons.

In the absence of that explanation, I’ll try to explain what I view could be behind the thinking.

Waiting isn’t unprecedented. In fact, Letterman took a couple of months off after leaving NBC for CBS and premiering "The Late Show" on Aug. 30, 1993.

Comedy Central is waiting until some time in the fall after Jon Stewart has his last “Daily” show on Aug. 6 before premiering his replacement, South African comedian Trevor Noah.

The months between the end of Letterman’s and Stewart’s shows and the premieres of their replacements give their networks time for comprehensive promotional and media campaigns before they start.

In CBS’ case, it would have been especially hard to give Colbert his promotional due now while it was giving Letterman the proper send-off.

Of course, NBC didn’t wait after Johnny Carson retired from “The Tonight Show” to start the Jay Leno era of "The Tonight Show."

But when Letterman started a few months later, he immediately rose to No. 1. He stayed there for almost two years before Leno became No.1 and stayed there. Leno’s long-term success had nothing to do with when he or Letterman started.

If Colbert is good – and I expect him to be very good – it won’t matter when he starts.

I wouldn’t worry so much about losing viewers to the two Jimmys this summer because CBS isn’t in the late-night comedy game. Viewers have pretty much decided on them by now.

The delay in starting also gives workers time to renovate the Ed Sullivan Theater for the new Colbert set, which can take some time. It also will give Colbert some time to bank some filmed features.

Additionally, the summer isn’t exactly a great time to book guests in New York City. Celebrities vacation just like the rest of us.

Finally, “The Mentalist” isn’t the only CBS drama that it plans to air in late-night until Colbert’s program begins.

After its run ends in two weeks, CBS plans weeks of rerun episodes of ‘Hawaii Five-O,” “CSI: Cyber,” “Elementary,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Good Wife,” “NCIS: L.A.,” “NCIS,” “Hawaii Five-O" again, “Scorpion,” “CSI” Cyber” (again), “The Good Wife” (again), and “Madam Secretary.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if those reruns help bring new viewers to those shows when they return with new fall episodes.

The decision certainly can’t hurt “CSI: Cyber,” which was somewhat of a surprise renewal over the original “CSI,” which will end with a two-hour movie.

It also wouldn’t be surprising if the CBS dramas did well here in household ratings fighting the two Jimmys.

On Thursday – the first post-Letterman night -- “The Mentalist” tied with Fallon’s show here. On Friday, Fallon’s show won but it was close. Kimmel remained deep in third place here on both nights.


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