Dave Letterman’s show, Late Night with David Letterman, featured Dave Letterman as himself. It wasn’t an act - Dave Letterman was Dave Letterman, enough said. Conversely, Comedy Central argued that Stephen Colbert cannot be Stephen Colbert – at least the version that appeared on The Colbert Show. In doing so, Comedy Central claimed ownership of the character Stephen Colbert as he appeared on The Colbert Show.
At first, Stephen Colbert acted as himself on CBS, but the trouble was ratings were low. According to TechDirt, the real Stephen Colbert wasn’t as enticing as the character Stephen Colbert, so Late Night with Stephen Colbert, started bringing on segments that were featured on Comedy Central. Bits such as, “Word of the Day,” the Consumerist reported. (This prompted Colbert to cynically/comically suggest that Late Night with Stephen Colbert showcase him in a differently-spelled segment entitled, “Werd of the Day.”) Comedy Central argues that performing his same show segments on CBS violates their rights to the show as it appeared on Comedy Central. Like if Lucille Ball play Lucy of I Love Lucy for a different network, or Carol Burnett of The Carol Burnett Show, or Roseanne Barr of Roseanne. None of these actresses acted as themselves in the shows that featured their own name as the main character. If they had switched networks, would the shows be allowed to continue, without paying for rights to the original network?
Meanwhile, according to Colbert, his character Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Show, is now banned by corporate lawyers. And true to his comedic style, Colbert’s way of dealing is that he’s now bringing on his “identical twin cousin,” who, incidentally is named…Stephen Colbert, reports RawStory.
In all seriousness, the question of character ownership is an intellectual property issue. What do you think? Does Comedy Central have the rights to The Colbert Show’s character, Stephen Colbert?
Either way, stay tuned to CBS to see which Stephen Colbert appears on tonight’s late show – it may or may not be who you think. And that gives CBS ratings it might not have expected.