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Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman on the Late Show

Stephen Colbert confirms the transfer of his soul to higher powers in exchange for winning two Emmys.

LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS

It's official: CBS has announced that Stephen Colbert will take over as new host of the Late Show when David Letterman retires next year.

The network and host of The Colbert Report have reached a five-year agreement to helm the late-night franchise, according to a press release.

The CBS announcement was made by CBS CEO and president Les Moonves and CBS entertainment chairman Nina Tassler on Thursday.

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Said Moonves in the release: "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."

The CBS release also quoted Colbert as saying, "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."

Added Colbert: "I'm thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth."

The CBS press release detailing Colbert's signing said that the producers and location for the new show will be "determined and announced at a later date."

Colbert's contract with Comedy Central expires at the end of 2014. He has hosted The Colbert Report since 2005. He's obviously a sharp comedic mind but his transfer to fulltime talk-show duty will be interesting to watch: Namely, on The Colbert Report, he's playing a character – his own take on a dim Fox News personality – that he says he will shed as host of the Late Show, and viewers have never really seen the real Stephen Colbert.

Bill Carter of the New York Times reported on Twitter that Colbert said he "won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it."

Letterman began hosting The Late Show with David Letterman for CBS on August 30, 1993. He announced last week that he will step down from the show sometime next year.

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Letterman said he had spoken in the past with Moonves, "and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance.

"And I phone him just before the program, and I said, 'Leslie, it's been great, you've been great, and the network has been great, but I'm retiring,' " Mr. Letterman told his studio audience. "We don't have the timetable for this precisely down – I think it will be at least a year or so, but sometime in the not-too-distant future, 2015 for the love of God," he added.

Letterman's impending departure from CBS marks the latest in a recent rearrangement of the late-night deck chairs at the major networks.

News of his plans to retire came nearly two months after Jay Leno bid farewell as host of NBC's The Tonight Show, a job Leno assumed in 1992 in a bitter and highly publicized succession of Johnny Carson that led to Letterman's defection from NBC.

Leno was replaced by Jimmy Fallon, who had hosted the show that airs after The Tonight Show, and Fallon in turn was succeeded by comedian Seth Meyers, who like Fallon is an alumnus of Saturday Night Live.

Letterman had jumped ahead of The Tonight Show in the ratings as recently as 2010, when Tonight was briefly hosted by Conan O'Brien.

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In the most recent Nielsen rankings, Fallon's show averaged 5.2-million viewers a week, compared with 2.7-million for Letterman.

With a report from Reuters

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