After launching MSNBC’s Morning Joe and reinventing CBS This Morning, producer Chris Licht is steering his career in a darker direction—literally. As the new executive in charge of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Licht has ditched the crack-of-dawn time slot of past gigs for a program that airs when most people are heading off to bed.
Since starting in April, Licht has begun retooling how the show operates and has made some tweaks to the format (such as a tighter opening sequence). "My approach is the same whether it’s this show or CBS This Morning or Morning Joe," he says. "My sole job is to look at where there are roadblocks to people succeeding and do everything I can to remove them so people flourish, are creative, and have the power to take risks and chances. That ultimately helps the product on television." It’s too soon to know how the changes might affect the ratings (The Late Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live both trail time-slot leader The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), but Licht is eager to have an impact. "I’m very competitive," he says. "I’m trying to beat the other guys—not only in the ratings, but to just be better."
A key part of this, he believes, is to foster collaboration, both with the staff and the show’s host. "One of the most enjoyable parts is learning from Stephen. There is a science to comedy. Like, what’s the setup to the joke, where are the ways it can go, what technique are you going to use to get there? I also talk to him about organizational stuff. His brain works in every part of the organization. He’s a problem solver. He’s very curious. He’s interested."
"The Uber-fication that allows the elimination of corrupt middlemen. It’s just thrown the establishment on its ear. I don’t think you can overstate how that’s going to affect things. It affects how we deliver content. It’s much more than being able to get a ride."
"I had a brain hemorrhage six years ago. That taught me what’s important."
"I love watching people as I walk to work in New York City. Being in the moment and thinking about things—that’s part of my process. I don’t listen to anything. I just walk."
"I have an overarching philosophy, which is to strip away as much [nonsense] as possible. Try to minimize drama and stuff that doesn’t matter."
A version of this article appeared in the September issue of Fast Company magazine.