CBS has officially decided what it's getting the Super Bowl for its 50th birthday: a live edition of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert that will air immediately after the running and tackling and grunting action is over.
As TVLine points out, this is the first time the coveted post–Super Bowl time slot — which generally nets an extra several million viewers to whatever program airs there, thanks to people who leave the TV on after the game — has ever been awarded to a late-night show. Traditionally, it's reserved for either a big show that a TV network wants to make even bigger (see: Survivor, Friends, Grey's Anatomy, The Office), a show that a TV network likes well enough to give it a jolt of Super Bowl audience energy (see: Alias, New Girl, Elementary), or the premiere of a new show that a TV network really hopes will succeed (see: Brothers and Sisters, The Wonder Years, Family Guy, Undercover Boss).
Late-night shows have often done their own Super Bowl specials — most notably Jimmy Kimmel's hyperactive "Game Night" installments — but they've always aired after the original post–Super Bowl episode of a primetime series. CBS's decision to give the slot to Colbert will make late night the main attraction (with James Corden's Late Late Show, which will also air a special Super Bowl episode, as the dessert).
The move is a curious one, and not only because it's unprecedented. CBS has several shows in its lineup that could have been viable postgame choices. Supergirl, a curveball series for the procedural-heavy network, has been dipping in the ratings every week, and likely would've benefited from the chance to court a few new eyeballs. Ditto for the ambitious procedural Limitless, whose numbers have plateaued since its debut (even with the golden touch of executive producer Bradley Cooper). Alternatively, if CBS wanted to jump-start a new franchise, it's got a Rush Hour television series in the pipeline. Choosing Colbert demonstrates CBS's commitment to helping The Late Show succeed with him at the helm, as it stands to introduce him to a much wider range of viewers — one that extends far beyond fans of The Colbert Report who followed the host to CBS and people who fall asleep to whatever comes on after their local news.
So the real question now is: What will a live post–Super Bowl late-night show look like — and, maybe more importantly to a potential ratings juggernaut, what guests will Colbert book to join him?