TIME movies

The Very Political History of Annie

Quvenzhane Wallis;Jamie Foxx
Barry Wetcher—Columbia Pictures/Sony

The new movie adaptation finds a new time

The new version of Annie — in theaters Friday — doesn’t exactly shy away from its New Deal origins. Mere minutes of the film have passed before the newest actress to step into the orphan’s shoes, Quvenzhané Wallis, is talking about Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression.

Except this time that history is, well, history. The musical that once contained songs with the actual titles “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover” and “A New Deal for Christmas” has been updated for modern times. And, though its Daddy Warbucks equivalent (Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, a New York gazillionaire with aspirations à la Michael Bloomberg) is still involved in politics, the story has left behind much of its erstwhile focus on the national political climate.

“The interesting thing about Annie is that it was started as a political cartoon and with pretty biting social and political commentary, and then it was turned into a musical, and people have forgotten that,” says Will Gluck, the writer-director behind the new adaptation. “They just think about ‘Tomorrow,’ the plucky kid and the dog.”

The content of that original social commentary may surprise some of today’s “Tomorrow” singers. In the ’20s, when the strip debuted, Little Orphan Annie was already “issuing a steady stream of far-right propaganda.” In 1935, one newspaper canceled the comic because “Annie has been made the vehicle for a studied, veiled, and alarmingly vindictive propaganda.” Cartoonist Harold Gray was a staunch believer in the way Daddy Warbucks got rich, which was “doing his job and not asking for help from anyone,” as he put it. “Gray agrees that Annie dabbles in dialectics, and he has no intention, of stopping her,” TIME commented in 1962. “To Artist Gray, Daddy and Annie are salesmen of the American dream, the “pioneer spirit” that without assistance, even from the State Department, can cope with Castro, neutralize the H-bomb, and eliminate the income tax.”

In the 1970s, however, when Annie went to Broadway, though TIME opined that her newspaper-comic twin was “still fight[ing] the Red Menace and bleeding-heart liberals,” the character’s priorities changed. In the musical version of Annie, the spunky orphan — who has already helped her war-profiteering rescuer realize that those who have less are worth taking care of — is brought along to a meeting with FDR, at which point her natural optimism helps inspire the President to institute the New Deal. The general take-away, besides the fact that the sun will come out tomorrow, is that New-Deal-style, progressive policies help everyone get the fair shake he or she deserves. Annie’s can-do pluck is still important, but she’s optimistic about the government’s ability to help all rather than individuals helping themselves.

Gluck says that, while updating the story for today’s audiences — Annie lives in a foster home rather than an orphanage, for example — he didn’t want to lose that part of the story’s background. “The one thing I wanted to keep is the socioeconomic divide of the Depression,” he says, “which sadly has even gotten bigger now and sadly is not going away.” That was why he made sure to have his Annie teach viewers a little lesson about the Great Depression when, she says, things were just like they are today except without the Internet.

Still, this iteration of Annie ends up bringing the political girl to a more centrist position.

By keeping things local and staying away from specific historical moments — no, new Annie does not inspire the President to believe that there really are plenty of shovel-ready stimulus projects out there — some of the specificity of Annie’s political message is lost too. Stacks thinks that in New York City, if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you want, just like old-fashioned Daddy Warbucks did. Meanwhile, Annie recognizes that folks in her neighborhood are often ignored and left behind, even when they work hard, just like her theatrical predecessor did. They each come to see the other’s side a little better, but the audience doesn’t come away singing a song about Obamacare.

But, Gluck says, that’s a better fit for the audience anyway — though not because today’s political divides are so treacherous. Adults may see Annie as a rags-to-riches story, he says, but kids don’t really know what that means; the core message of Annie, about hope and optimism, works just as well now as it did in the ’70s or ’30s because it’s a universal story. “I don’t believe the end of the movie is that she got to live with a rich guy,” he says. “I believe that to her the end of the movie is that she got to find a family.”

Besides, he still remembers the first time he saw the original Annie, and the questions he had for his parents when it was over: Who is Herbert Hoover and who is that guy in the wheelchair? When he took his own kids to see Annie on Broadway recently, they had the same exact questions. His movie’s young viewers, however, won’t be left scratching their heads. “You don’t need to study for this essay question,” he says.

Read our original review of the musical Annie, here in the TIME Vault: No Waif Need Apply

TIME Revolution

When Fidel Castro Took Power: How TIME Covered the News

The Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME
Fidel Castro on the Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN

Castro was on the cover of the magazine three weeks after he seized control of Cuba

When Fidel Castro first ousted Fulgencio Batista at the turn of 1959, there weren’t many non-Cuban journalists there to see it happen — but TIME’s Bruce Henderson was there, and he was soon joined by Bernard Diederich, who would later cover the Caribbean for the magazine. Their presence meant that, throughout that January, TIME’s “Hemispheres” section carried up-to-the-minute news about the changes on the island.

As Diederich recalls in his book 1959: The Year That Changed Our World, the assignment was an unusual one:

Henderson assigned me to cover Fidel’s arrival in Havana. I leaped onto a tank with a group of 26th of July female fighters and rode in Fidel’s wake into Camp Columbia, once the bastion of Batista’s army. It was January 8. Rodríguez Echazábel was already at the camp headquarters when I arrived. My Santiago-issued laissez-passer did wonders too. I was introduced to bearded rebel comandante (Maj.)Maj. Camilo Cienfuegos to whom I explained my challenging assignment. Time would want a full description of Fidèl’s first night in Havana. Would the 26th of July leader choose to dance, date, or dive into bed after his arduous trip up the island from the Sierra Maestra to Havana. Camilo smiled broadly when I also told him that I needed to know the color of Fidèl’s pajamas—if he wore them!

Though those “female fighters” were the subject of a story in the Jan. 19, 1959, issue, Castro’s pajamas did not. (Actually, his blue cotton PJs did get their moment, but it wasn’t until that May.)

However, Castro got even more focus from TIME the following week, when he was featured on the cover of the magazine, in a story that focused on matters a lot more important than his sleepwear choices. Rather, the article opened with Castro pushing for the executions of those who had abetted the Batista regime:

…Castro was in no mood for mercy. “They are criminals,” he said. “Everybody knows that. We give them a fair trial. Mothers come in and say, ‘This man killed my son.’ ” To demonstrate, Castro offered to stage the courts-martial in Havana’s Central Park—an unlikely spot for cool justice but perfect for a modern-day Madame Defarge.

In the trials rebels acted as prosecutor, defender and judge. Verdicts, quickly reached, were as quickly carried out. In Santiago the show was under the personal command of Fidel’s brother Raul, 28, a slit-eyed man who had already executed 30 “informers” during two years of guerrilla war. Raul’s firing squads worked in relays, and they worked hour after hour. Said Raul: “There’s always a priest on hand to hear the last confession.”

Read the full 1959 cover story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: The Vengeful Visionary

TIME politics

Cuba’s Unanswered Questions

Obama Makes Statement On U.S.-Cuba Policy
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the nation about normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, at the White House on Dec. 17, 2014 Pool / Getty Images

In 2013, TIME took a look at a changing Cuba

When President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would work toward normalizing long-severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, it came as a surprise to many.

But as TIME observed in a feature story last July, change has long been underway for an Island nation that, in the past, has had a reputation for seeming frozen in time. Rules about commerce and private business had been relaxed, citizens were encouraged to find non-state jobs, tourism was opening up and the possibility of a non-Castro leader suddenly seemed less distant. However, that didn’t mean that Cuba’s future was clear.

Many of the questions raised by writer Pico Iyer are, even in this new phase of Cuban history, still unanswered:

Cubans today are free–at last–to enjoy their own version of Craigslist, to take holidays in fancy local tourist hotels, to savor seafood-and-papaya lasagna with citrus compote, washed down by a $200 bottle of wine, in one of the country’s more than 1,700 paladares, or privately run restaurants. They’re free to speak out against just about everything–except the two brothers at the top–and they strut around their capital in T-shirts featuring the $1 bill or Barack Obama in his “Yes we can” pose, even (in the case of one woman leaning against the gratings in Fraternity Park) in very skimpy briefs decorated with the Stars and Stripes.

Yet as what was long underground is now aboveboard, and as capitalist all-against-all has become official communist policy, no one seems quite sure whether the island is turning right or left. Next to the signs saying EVERYTHING FOR THE REVOLUTION, there’s an Adidas store; and the neglected houses of Old Havana sit among rooftop swimming pools and life-size stuffed bears being sold for $870. “Nobody knows where we’re going,” says a trained economist whose specialty was market research, “and people don’t know what they want. We’re sailing in the dark.”

Read the rest of the story, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Cuban Evolution

TIME Media

How Radio History Hinted at the Conclusion of Serial

On The Wireless
Circa 1945, a family of four gathers in their living room to listen to their home radio set Harold M. Lambert—Getty Images

The radio serial has been around for nearly a century — and some things haven't changed

Warning: spoilers follow for the end of the first season of Serial

The true-crime podcast Serial, which published its season finale Thursday morning, may be a 2014 phenomenon — but, though the 12-episodes-one-story format may have been new for that style of podcast, it’s actually one of the oldest tricks in the radio book.

The idea of publishing a story a little bit at a time is often traced back to Charles Dickens, so when radio became the popular medium of choice in the early 20th century, the benefits of hooking an audience with the drip-drip of a story were already well known. By the 1930s, Procter & Gamble was the biggest radio advertiser in the country, by dint of its serial dramas, the original “soap operas.” The serial had become one of the most popular formats for radio. A 1939 calculation by the chair of radio writing at Columbia University estimated that there were 20,000,000 words spoken each day on U.S. radio — more than all the words spoken in the movies in a year, or on Broadway in ten — and that, at the time, writers of popular daily serials were some of the best paid staffers in the business, earning $1,000 a week.

As Elena Razlogova notes in her history of early radio, The Listener’s Voice, early serials shared something with Serial beyond merely being split up into multiple episodes. Just as Serial was taped as it aired, allowing for those familiar with the case to hear the show and volunteer new information, early radio serials relied on fan mail to help decide how the stories would move along.

Which means there’s something else Serial shares with its predecessors: the fact that, as the podcast’s listeners have discovered by now, the end of the story isn’t known in advance — which often means the conclusion of a radio serial isn’t necessarily an “ending” per se.

According to the Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio, traditional radio serials were popular but “frustrating” because they were “neverending.” Unlike literary serials of the Dickens variety — a format that TIME reported in 2012 was making a comeback on e-readers — radio serials that are written as they go along have tended, historically, not to have a predetermined arc. They just start and see where they go; when the season ends or the show gets canceled, denouement or not, that’s that.

Though Serial‘s season one ended with a guess from host Sarah Koenig that Adnan Syed was probably innocent, her year of research and weeks of podcasting yielded no certainty — a fact that Koenig readily admits in the episode. Syed’s case is still not settled and it seems possible that the world may never know exactly what happened on the fateful day in question, but the season is over so that’s it as far as listeners are concerned. And, given the show’s format, if we ever do find out what happened, it won’t be on Serial season two. So, in that, Serial and old-time serials have something in common with real life as well: unlike in the world of pre-scripted shows, a neat and tidy conclusion is a rarity.

Read more about the return of serial fiction, here in the TIME Vault: Stay Tuned for E-Serials

TIME conflict

Why Did the U.S. and Cuba Sever Diplomatic Ties in the First Place?

Fidel Castro cover
The Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN

Diplomacy between the two neighbors has been strained for decades

On Wednesday, U.S. President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that the two nations are on their way to restoring diplomatic relations. Obama, speaking of the change, said that the two nations are not served by a policy rooted in events that took place a half century ago.

But what exactly did happen back then?

It was actually over half a century ago that Fidel Castro led Cuban rebels against Cuba’s strongman leader Fulgencio Batista, if you count from when Castro led revolutionaries to the island in late 1956. (He had been involved in anti-Batista efforts for several years before that, too.) Though early reports on the movement speak of Castro and his supporters as underdogs with no hope of victory, as 1959 dawned, they proved victorious. America watched with interest, but it wasn’t long before it became clear that Castro’s Cuba would not be an easygoing neighbor to the United States.

As Castro purged Cuba of Batista supporters, he declined to institute the democratic reforms that many had hoped for. Initially, the revolution had not been overtly Communist, but Castro moved further toward that ideology as his rule went on. In the middle of 1959, he instituted wealth-distribution and land-confiscation programs; that July, TIME reported that a former Cuban official had said that “Cuba’s No. 1 Communist… is Fidel himself.”

In a Cold War world, the rise of Communism in a nation so close to Florida was not taken lightly. Though the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Philip W. Bonsal, did finally manage to meet with Castro that September, their discussions — partly concerned with arrests of U.S. citizens in Cuba and the government confiscation of some U.S. investments in Cuba — proved fruitless.

In the United Nations, Cuba began to stand with Communist nations against the U.S.; in Cuba, the ruling regime encouraged anti-U.S. sentiments; in early 1960, the U.S.S.R. instituted a trade-and-aid deal with Cuba; U.S. sugar producers pushed for the nation to stop buying sugar from Cuba; Castro accused the U.S. of sabotaging a ship that blew up in Havana’s harbor. The details of changes in Cuba and the U.S. reaction to those developments are complicated and often conflicting, but suffice it to say that TIME called that period a “rapidly deteriorating situation that sees Cuban-American relations reach a new low each day.”

Eventually, in late October of 1960, the U.S. imposed a strict embargo barring two-thirds of American imports from Cuba, which before then had been buying a whopping 70% of its imports from the United States. As the two nations sparred over economics, Ambassador Bonsal was recalled from Cuba, after which point both embassies — Cuba’s in D.C. and America’s in Havana — were left to be headed by chargés, which meant, TIME pointed out, that “diplomacy between the two nations will become as difficult as commerce.”

In the weeks that followed, as rumors of a possible invasion by the U.S. spread throughout Cuba, people began to line up at the U.S. embassy seeking visas to leave the island. The daily lines became an embarrassment to the Castro regime but the rumors only increased as time went on. When Castro later demanded that the two countries have the exact same number of staffers in their respective embassies (11), the U.S. brought its entire staff home instead.

The crowds were still waiting when, early in January of 1961, the embassy closed its doors; there were more than 50,000 visa applications on file at the time. As TIME reported:

The crowd of desperate Cubans swarming around the U.S. embassy in Havana refused to believe that the doors were locked and that no more visas could be issued. One man hammered on the glass, waving his U.S. Army discharge papers. A woman with a broken leg was held up piteously to the scurrying U.S. staff workers inside. “But you are the humane people! You are the humane people!” a woman pleaded, grabbing a U.S. consular official as government photographers stood near snapping pictures of those who wanted to flee Castro’s Cuba.

The U.S. could not help them—at the moment. After two years of harassment. President Eisenhower ordered the State Department to break all diplomatic ties, at both the embassy and consular level, for the first time in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. To most Americans the wonder was that the U.S. had stood it so long.

The only place in Cuba where a U.S. presence remained would be the naval base at Guantanamo Bay; a few weeks later, the U.S. announced a decision to all end travel to Cuba. Early 1961 proved to be the end of one phase of U.S.-Cuba relations, and the beginning of another, more openly combative, phase — and this week may well mark the beginning of the next.

Read TIME’s 1959 cover story about Fidel Castro’s rebellion, here in the TIME Vault: Fidel Castro

TIME movies

Here’s the Perfect Word to Describe Watching The Hobbit

The Hobbit
Mark Pokorny—Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

One word to describe it all, one word if you can find it

When The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is released on Wednesday, it will likely mark the end of Peter Jackson’s stint bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels to the big screen. Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been able to enjoy the films for over a decade now, and so the release of this sixth installment is likely to bring with it mixed feelings: happiness, finality, nostalgia.

It will be a combination familiar to Tolkien’s long-time fans, who encountered the same feeling as he wrote the books over the course of decades.

Those fans may also be familiar with a word that Tolkien coined decades ago to describe the feeling of something ending the way it’s supposed to: Eucatastrophe. (That’s the positive prefix Eu, as in euphoria, plus catastrophe.) Here’s how TIME described it in Tolkien’s 1973 obituary:

But [Tolkien] did point out that literal-minded folk who object to fairy stories as escapist mistake the wartime escape of the deserter (bad) for the wartime escape of the prisoner (necessary and good). Fairy tales represent the latter, Tolkien continued, and correspond to the primordial human desire—in a world of poverty, injustice and death —for the “consolation of the happy ending.” Tolkien even coined a word—Eucatastrophe—for this happy quality.

Eucatastrophe gives the reader “a catch of breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, a piercing glimpse of joy and heart’s desire.”

For one thing, the moment in The Hobbit that Tolkien himself identified as the most “eucatastrophic” is included in the section of the book that’s the source for this movie. There’s also the external eucatastrophe: for those who love the movie, there’s the consolation Tolkien describes, the joy of a tale coming to an end — and for those who don’t like it, there’s the consolation of knowing it’s over.

Read TIME’s 1966 article about the fad for all things Tolkien, here in the TIME Vault: The Hobbit Habit

TIME politics

What Makes Jeb Bush the ‘Most Unusual of the Bush Kids’

John E. Bush
GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush during a campaign event on Oct. 1, 1998 Steve Liss—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

TIME profiled the politician in 1998

After months of will-he-or-won’t-he chatter, Jeb Bush has rocketed into headlines by announcing that he’s officially exploring a 2016 run for President. But Bush is no stranger to making news.

Last year TIME’s Jon Meacham considered the possibility that the run might happen, and the myth that “Jeb was the Bush son who was supposed to be President” — a myth that can be traced back to 1994, when both George W. Bush and Jeb Bush ran for governor, of Texas and Florida, respectively. The former won; the latter lost.

In 1998, when Jeb Bush ran again, things had changed. After a religious conversion and a family crisis, his new campaign was, as TIME put it in a profile of the politician, “kinder, gentler.” It worked, bringing him a victory that fall. A gubernatorial run that had been focused on compassion, education and broad appeal was a change from the more conservative style of Bush family campaigning, and that wasn’t the only thing that was different about him:

Jeb Bush has always been the most unusual of the Bush kids. Yes, he had the Greenwich pedigree and the summers in Kennebunkport. But while still in high school, he went to Mexico and came back in love with a Mexican girl named Columba. He married her, and the Bush Episcopalians, with their love of cold Maine waters, suddenly had a warm Catholic woman for a daughter-in-law. Then Jeb left Houston, the city he grew up in, and put down roots in the Latino culture of Miami, where his family had little sway. He lost his first race for Governor of Florida in 1994 by fewer than 2 percentage points, and the finish was not pretty.

Bush had been so obsessed with the campaign that he almost lost his family too. Which is why, to those watching the 45-year-old second son of the former President become the front runner in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bush seems so different, so much softer around the edges.

Read the rest of the 1998 story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: Kinder, Gentler—And in the Lead

TIME Television

Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and the History of Late-Night Torch Passing

From Steve Allen to Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert’s eponymous Colbert Report comes to an end Dec. 18, but the comedian who pays a faux conservative pundit isn’t leaving the airwaves. He’s dropping character and headed to CBS, where he’ll replace legendary late-night host David Letterman on the Late Show.

Here’s how other late-night hosts have passed the torch over the years.

1957, The Original Departure: Steve Allen leaves Tonight!

Steve Allen was already famous as a writer and media personality when, in June of 1953, he launched a late-night variety show for local Manhattan television. The audience was relatively small, but passionate enough that NBC decided to give him a shot in 1954 to take the show national. They called it Tonight! The rest is talk-show history.

Allen was so successful that NBC gave him a Sunday-night program, too. In order to be able to handle the work, he split hosting duties with comic Ernie Kovacs—one of late-night’s forgotten stars—but eventually that wasn’t enough help. In early 1957, Allen left to focus on his other work and NBC experimented with the time slot. Months later, when the other ideas flopped and the network went back to the old format, Allen’s replacement Jack Paar pretty much had to start from scratch. Expectations were low, but he quickly proved himself: within two years the show’s name had been changed from Tonight Starring Jack Paar to The Jack Paar Tonight Show.

1962: Paar leaves The Jack Paar Tonight Show

Before Paar officially left the show, there was a false alarm: In February of 1960, an NBC censor decided to edit out a bathroom joke before broadcasting one night’s show. Paar, incensed over not having been consulted, surprised his audience and the network by announcing on camera that he had decided to walk off in protest. After about a month without him, Paar made up with the network and returned.

Two years later, when he left for real, the situation was far less dramatic. He was going on to The Jack Paar Program, and the network decided far in advance that a young comedian named Johnny Carson would be a good replacement. Because Carson was already booked up for the summer, a series of guest hosts filled a few months of time between Paar’s departure and Carson’s arrival. Though audiences decided they liked some of the guests— Merv Griffin was a particular favorite—it soon became clear that Carson was worth waiting for. Soon, his ratings were higher than Paar’s had ever been. But the gap was not for nothing. Even though Carson’s show would officially have his name in the title, the time with no official host gave the franchise a nickname that would endure to this day: The Tonight Show.

1992: Carson leaves The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Thirty years passed at The Tonight Show between Johnny Carson’s arrival on stage and his final words, “I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight.” During that time, he was consistently the most successful host in the format and redefined the very meaning of the late-night show. Because Carson announced his retirement a year in advance, his final season as host was one for revisiting classic characters like Carnac the Magnificent, hosting first-time bucket-list guests like Elizabeth Taylor and making sure favorite guests got one more go-round. As TIME wrote upon the occasion of his departure, “The history of Carson’s years at the Tonight show is, to a large degree, the history of television.”

Johnny Carson was pretty much the definition of a tough act to follow. But Jay Leno clearly wanted to give it a shot nonetheless. Leno had gained notoriety as a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman and, as Carson retirement rumors emerged, courted the network. Though at one point Letterman would have been the favorite to replace Carson—and though Carson himself seemed to favor Letterman—the network had its eye on Leno when the time rolled around. Letterman ended up leaving NBC for CBS, setting off a long-term rivalry between the two hosts.

1993: Conan O’Brien takes over Late Night

The Simpsons writer and Harvard grad was a close-to-total unknown when NBC hired him to replace the departing David Letterman, and his ascension was far from a sure thing. O’Brien, who had written for Lorne Michaels on Saturday Night Live, was initially hired as the head writer of Late Night when Michaels took it over; Dana Carvey, SNL’s Church Lady, turned the gig down. Michaels hadn’t considered O’Brien for the on-air role at all until the redhead’s agent, a year younger even than the 30-year-old O’Brien, floated the idea.

NBC executives weren’t happy with the O’Brien pick, but they were out of options—Garry Shandling, a last alternative to the gangly O’Brien, turned down the network’s offer. It was a difficult transition, not least because NBC was incensed over Letterman bringing all of his old tricks to his new show on CBS. In the meantime, O’Brien sought to fine-tune his on camera persona, doing 10 never-broadcast warmup shows before his debut (Leno had only done two to take over from Johnny Carson). Initial reviews were tepid, but O’Brien, through hard work and continued adjustment of his persona, managed to hang on far longer than the other, far-better-known host with a new show that season: Chevy Chase.

1998: Craig Kilborn leaves The Daily Show

Craig Kilborn had been an ESPN anchor before moving to Comedy Central to fill the newsy late-night slot the network had empty after losing Politically Incorrect to ABC. He turned the new show—and its comedy-news genre, which was also pretty much new—into something worth talking about, and one of the network’s best performers. In many ways, Kilborn was the face of Comedy Central.

In fact, he did so well that within a few years he was courted by CBS to take over The Late Late Show. Comedy Central tried to keep him from leaving, going so far as to announce that even if he was no longer on the air he would not be allowed out of the contract that kept him from hosting another show. (As things worked out, Jon Stewart started at The Daily Show in January of 1999 and Kilborn had about three months off before starting at CBS.) The network eventually decided to hire Stewart to take over The Daily Show, which many saw as ironic, since Stewart had been previously talked about to take over The Late Late Show.

1999: Tom Snyder of The Late Late Show gets replaced by Craig Kilborn

Tom Snyder’s Late Late Show was among the most cerebral chat shows in memory: guests included U.S. surgeon general Joycelyn Elders. David Letterman had created the series to follow his own out of admiration for Snyder’s past work interviewing luminaries on the defunct series Tomorrow. But it wasn’t exactly ratings dynamite, and CBS hired Craig Kilborn away from Comedy Central, where he was hosting The Daily Show.

Or it tried to, at least: Comedy Central refused to release Kilborn until they could find a replacement. Reports at the time indicated progress was moving slowly, as the network’s choice turned them down. Jon Stewart eventually changed his mind.

2004: The Late Late Show’s Changing of the Craigs

CBS made a list of finalists public when Craig Kilborn left The Late Late Show: D.L. Hughley, Michael Ian Black, Damien Fahey, and eventual host Craig Ferguson. The list caused a stir at the time for its four Y chromosomes; it seemed as though any man, even if not quite famous or accomplished enough to traditionally be in contention for a late-night gig, was considered before any woman.

Either way, the four men all did test shows, and Ferguson, the least-well-known of the four (his biggest exposure had been a supporting role on The Drew Carey Show), came out on top. He ended up getting strong reviews for a show that, like Snyder’s had been, stood slightly apart from the rest of late night, focusing on spontaneous interviews that resisted talking points (as Ferguson didn’t pre-interview guests).

2009: Jimmy Fallon follows Conan O’Brien’s Late Night act

NBC had a long time to think about who’d be replacing Conan O’Brien in the 12:35 a.m. spot: His ascension to The Tonight Show was announced in 2004 but didn’t take effect until 2009. Fallon, Tina Fey’s co-anchor on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, had been a favorite of Late Night producer Lorne Michaels since then, but he was pursuing a movie career at the time.
Seemingly chastened by his movie career’s failure to launch, Fallon agreed to take on the Late Night role and undertook a “training” period during which he worked on a 50-minute comedy set at colleges and clubs. Ironically, this has come to matter little; Fallon’s standup comedy has been among the least important aspects of his act on Late Night and, later, Tonight, where he relies more on scripted bits and games.

2009: Jay Leno leaves The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Jay Leno spent 17 years at The Tonight Show, and nearly a third of that time was with his replacement waiting in the wings. It was in 2004, on the show’s 50th anniversary, that NBC announced that Late Night’s Conan O’Brien would take over The Tonight Show when 2009 rolled around. Some speculated that the announcement was designed to keep O’Brien from switching to an earlier time slot at a different network, and Leno himself expressed relief that the long lag would help avoid the tension that had come with his own transition into the Tonight Show seat. When 2009 finally rolled around, Leno—who didn’t always win critics’ favor but kept The Tonight Show popular among many viewers—was given another NBC variety show, The Jay Leno Show, which aired at 10:00 pm.

2010: …and then he comes back

There’s a reason The Jay Leno Show doesn’t have its own item in this list. Ratings were low, and network affiliates were mad about the ad revenue it was costing them. The network tried to just shuffle things around to find a solution, shoving Jay Leno back to 11:35 and moving The Tonight Show to an even later hour, but Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien said he would rather quit than mess with the venerable franchise. Which is what happened, leaving The Tonight Show open for Leno to return. By that fall, O’Brien had gone over to cable to launch his own eponymous show on TBS.

2014: Jay Leno leaves The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Take Two

This time, it was for real. In early 2013, rumors that Jimmy Fallon was next in line for The Tonight Show began to circulate, to be confirmed that April. Though Leno was still tops in the network late-night ratings game, though not by a huge amount, the landscape for the genre was vastly different than it had been when he started—and accordingly, Fallon’s ascent was a big deal but nowhere near as big a deal as Leno’s had been. Still, he brought a viral-video sensibility, sweet sincerity and social-media smarts to the television institution—and a transition marked by goodwill. Fallon had turned to Leno for advice since getting his start in the talk-show game, so when the latter retired it was easy for the former to step in.

2014: Seth Meyers’s ascension

Meyers was a natural choice to replace Fallon in some ways: He, like Fallon, was an SNL standout and the host of Weekend Update. But his sensibility differed wildly from Fallon’s in manners Meyers made clear from the start. While Fallon is loose and given to wild musical interpretations, pre-show press emphasized just how cerebral and political Meyers was.
The handoff was, contrary to past NBC shakeups, drama-free, as everyone had served their time and no one, at least publicly, seemed to feel they’d gotten a raw deal. Meyers had been on SNL since 2001 and it was time to move on; Fallon had done a five-year tour of duty at Late Night; Jay Leno had gotten the opportunity to do several more years on Tonight than he otherwise might have.

2015: The rise of Corden

Next year, James Corden is to take over The Late Late Show as part of a CBS shake-up that began with David Letterman’s retirement. Almost unknown among U.S. television audiences, Corden has a Tony Award as well as several movie roles (including in the upcoming Into the Woods). It was a sad ending for Ferguson, who would have seemed to be in position to replace Letterman (and reportedly had a clause in his contract guaranteeing him a cash payout if he was not chosen as Letterman’s successor). A little-known Brit with gifts not yet tested by the American talk-show format, Corden presents all the advantages of Ferguson, plus one: He represents a fresh start for the network.

2015: Colbert replaces Letterman

CBS wasted no time dithering over David Letterman’s replacement after the longtime host announced his retirement: A scant week after the Letterman news, CBS announced Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert would be taking over the Late Show seat.
Colbert seemed in many ways like an obvious choice—one of the few people not already hosting a major-network late-night show with the star wattage, the comic talent, and the interest. It was only after his hiring, indeed, that any significant speculation over the choice took place, when Neil Patrick Harris claimed in an interview that he’d been involved in conversations with CBS about the show, but turned it down. Harris hardly seems like a fit, but in some senses he’s better-known than the actual pick.

Colbert has said he’s abandoning his conservative-pundit character for The Late Show, so in a sense he enters as an unknown: Himself.

TIME Television

Here’s What Critics Said About The Colbert Report When It Premiered

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Scott Gries—Picturegroup/Comedy Central

When skepticism gave way to praise

When The Colbert Report began it’s nearly decade-long run in 2005—the show rolls its final credits on Dec. 18—viewers and critics were excited but nervous. Colbert’s blowhard persona had been a mainstay of The Daily Show, but many worried that, given a whole half-hour to anchor, the character would grow tiresome.

Even in the first few weeks, the jury was out.

“Unfortunately, in just two weeks on the air, this half-hour spoof of a no-spin-zone type show has already stretched Colbert’s character and the artifice that supports it past its natural breaking point,” wrote USA Today. “Colbert was an invaluable part of the Daily Show, but as the whole show, he’s not enough and too much simultaneously.” And New York magazine decided that one of Colbert’s rivals at Comedy Central, David Spade’s The Showbiz Show, was the better of the two. The Colbert Report, wrote critic Adam Sternbergh, “has problems so intrinsic as to be potentially unfixable.” (The Showbiz Show ended in 2007.) Even critics who liked the show, like Heather Havrilesky at Salon, found the show “foolish, bizarre, idiotic fun,” mostly interesting in regards to his characters spoof of Bill O’Reilly.

Still, when the consensus emerged, it was one that stuck: The show was great. “[H]e packs more wit and acid commentary in 22 minutes of his one-man show than multiple skits by the entire cast of ‘SNL,’” declared The New York Times, and the The Los Angeles Times said that “Colbert, with his young Republican haircut and dead-serious eyes, is a terrifically artful speaker; there may be no better reader of writing on TV than him.”

TIME’s James Poniewozik concurred:

Many people, Colbert included, were worried that that guy would be too much to take for 30 minutes. (Then again, people blow a full hour on Bill O’Reilly.) But Colbert inhabits his pose so lustily–“I’ve just swallowed 20 condoms full of truth, and I’m smuggling them across the border!”–that his glee is infectious. Like the band Weezer or The O.C.‘s Seth Cohen, he is in the grand modern tradition of the swaggering nerd.

And here’s another reason to swagger: His legions of fans would say that the question of whether he’s too much to take—for 11 seasons, much less 30 minutes—seems as “foolish, bizarre, idiotic” as the character to whom they’re saying good-bye.

Read James Poniewozik’s full Nov. 14, 2005, piece on The Colbert Report: The American Bald Ego

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