CBS has hired Stephen Colbert to take over David Letterman‘s 11:35 pm talk-show slot after Letterman departs later this year. And yet Colbert — significant point — will be hosting the show as his own natural self and not under his usual Colbert Report rightwing-asshole “performance art” guise. So basically the guy Colbert has “been” all along is going to be shelved and this other guy, whose actual personality is a semi-mystery and whom no one really knows outside of coworkers and a few journalists and whatnot, is going to be “the new Letterman.” Does this strike anyone else as a bit of a weird call?

CBS has essentially hired Pee-Wee Herman to take over, but with the Pee-Wee persona erased and Paul Reubens substituting. It’s like hiring Red Skelton‘s Clem Kaddiddlehopper to host a talk show, except with Clem pushed aside by the real Skelton (i.e., a nice uptown suit and haircut, just being himself). Ladies and gentleman, Professor Irwin Corey…except the real actual guy, you know, without the wiggy persona and eccentric wardrobe and mumbo-jumbo schtick.

I think CBS execs chose Colbert because his comic attitude (or that associated with the rightwing character he’s played all these years) — brainy, wise-ass, ironic — is similar to Letterman’s. They figured the fan base will accept him as a dispenser of the kind of humor that they like or are used to. In short, a fairly timid and conservative call. I’m not saying it’s likely that Colbert will be a bust in this job, but it’s certainly possible. Nobody knows the guy. On top of which he’s a lot shorter than Letterman. People don’t like to admit stuff like this, but short guys can’t just step into a high-profile job and say, “Okay, I’m the new tall guy.”