Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stephen Colbert replacing David Letterman and the Generation Gap

There is a shift going on in America right now – specifically on late night television. Within quick succession, the old guard of talk show television is bowing out of prime time and giving it to a younger, fitter generation of host. It’s a shift that we will soon be seeing in other professions and workplaces, with the generational torch finally being passed from the Baby Boomers to Generation X. It’s happening whether the Baby Boomers want to or not.

A well-earned retirement.

It was announced this week that David Letterman, the man who reinvented late night in 1982 and has been a fixture ever since, is finally retiring from the Late Show desk and is handing it over to none other than Stephen Colbert. It’s an exciting choice for Millennials such as I, who have turned Colbert from a talking head into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.

And a New York Times bestselling author.

As the host of the Colbert Report since 2005, Colbert has been a fixture of satire, political pugilism and honest-to-goodness education at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. By assuming the character of, well, Stephen Colbert, he has brilliantly been able to skewer politicians and gain a loyal following while doing it. That’s just on Comedy Central though, a channel that has a very specific viewership. Moving him to CBS opposite the Tonight Show is more than just a promotion but a validation of his type of humor and the people who laugh with him.

 Laugh with him and give him awards.

Colbert also brings with him the youth, a demographic that can sniff our pandering in a second and throw it out even quicker. The Colbert Show audience wasn’t given to him but was instead earned tweet by tweet (even if that tweet offends people even though he wasn’t the one to write it). The networks have finally begun to embrace social media and the Internet as a whole by its choice of late night hosts.
A similar occurrence happened on the Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon took over for Jay Leno last February. It was more than just a new boss being the same as the old boss. Instead it was a paradigm shift that’s been a generation in the making.

 Who would have thought that late-night television would make for a perfect sociology lesson.

Letterman was born in 1947 and Leno was born in 1950 – sticking them smack dab in the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers are a gargantuan generation of victory babies created by returning World War II veterans. They were hippies in the 60s, yuppies in the 80s and now, in the new millennium, they’re nothing but old. Through sheer strength in numbers, the Baby Boomers have been catered to for decades and have been in power for my entire lifetime. They are our bosses, politicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, parents and anyone else in authority that makes the rules we follow. But something is happening with the Baby Boomer generation. They’re getting old.

 Leno needs his diaper changed.

There is a huge shift coming in the generation gap. The Baby Boomers and their gray hair are finally beginning to reach retirement age and will have to give the reigns to dreaded Generation X. The incestuous swapping of talk shows as of late is nothing more than a symbol of that changing in demographic. Instead of Baby Boomer Leno, Generation X member Fallon is now on the longest-running talk show in history. With that he brings his toolbox of viral videos, references that engender him to his contemporaries and a social media presence.

 And no, network television, forcing hashtags on us isn't engagement.

In the short time that Fallon has taken over the Tonight Show, it’s become a whole different beast creating a buzz that hasn’t been felt in a long time. Watching Leno on stage toward the end of his era was tantamount of seeing our dad fumble through the newspaper and complain about the modern world. Watching Fallon, instead, is a conversation that has a contagious energy to it that would be impossible for Leno to pull off.

Don't feel bad for Leno, he finally has time to spend with his cars.

And now, with Leno off the air, Letterman has announced his own departure. One can only imagine that Letterman was waiting for his arch nemesis Leno to bow out first out of spite, but it’s a similar generational shift as the Tonight Show. Throwing my whole theory in the bin, Colbert is debatably not a member of Generation X. He was born in 1964, which is just about near the dividing line of a generation timeline that nobody has ever really agreed on. But whether he is a young Baby Boomer or an old member of Generation X, his audience and sensibilities skew heavily toward the latter.

Similar shifts are occurring on Generation X member Jimmy Kimmel still making jokes every night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Saturday Night Live alum/Generation X member Seth Meyers taking over on Late Night.

 All the while, Josh Meyers continues to be irrelevant.

Conan O’Brien, who was a fatality of the 2010 Tonight Show war with Leno, is still making people laugh on TBS and, like Colbert, straddles that line between Baby Boomer and Generation X. All that leaves in the late night arena is Craig Ferguson, the scrappy host of the Late Late Show who continues to get good rating through sheer force of Scottish charisma.

 With some help from his robot friend...

It’s a changing of the guard on television and, soon enough, the modern day workplace will follow suit. Baby Boomers are getting older and, the longer they hold up progress by refusing to hand over the keys, the harder that transition is going to be. Nobody thought that Leno or Letterman was ever going to leave their respective shows. They were icons simply because they’ve been there a long time. But now a younger, savvier and hungrier generation is coming to the forefront. The best thing that Baby Boomers can do now to save the world is step out of the way.

It's a tale as old as time.