Lawyers Spar Over if Stephen Colbert Can Use 'Colbert' Persona

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After CBS "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert told viewers that lawyers representing his old Comedy Central show said he couldn't be "Stephen Colbert" anymore, he thumbed his nose at them with a transparent dodge.

Lawyers representing his old company complained to CBS after he revived the character he played under his own name on The Colbert Report -- a clueless, full-of-himself cable news host. They said that the character "Stephen Colbert" was their intellectual property, "which is surprising, since I never considered that guy much of an intellect," Colbert said on the Late Show on Wednesday.

The audience booed when Colbert, "with a heavy heart," said it has been decreed that the character is kaput.

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"I feel the same way, but what can I do?" Colbert said. "The lawyers have spoken. I cannot reasonably argue that I own my own face and name. And as much as I'd like to have that guy on again, I can't."

He then introduced "Stephen Colbert's identical cousin," an interview with himself displaying the same cocked eyebrow expression his old character had. Then the real Colbert did one of the old show's most popular recurring segments, retitling "The Word" to "The Werd."

Representatives from CBS and Comedy Central declined comment on Thursday. Until 2005, when CBS split from Viacom, the two networks were corporate cousins.

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Since starting at the Late Show last fall, Colbert has struggled to establish himself with his own personality. So fans were delighted last week when he briefly brought the old character back.

The "Late Show" has been making an aggressive play for attention with two weeks of live shows coinciding with the Republican and Democratic conventions. Besides the reappearance of his character, old friend Jon Stewart appeared last week for his first extended comic riffs on TV since leaving Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

The episode recalled a similar one when David Letterman left NBC's Late Night to go to CBS in 1993. At the time, NBC's president said Letterman could not take popular features like the Top 10 list and Stupid Pet Tricks with him because they were the "intellectual property" of NBC.

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Letterman poked fun at that on his first CBS show. NBC's Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw walked onto the set and confiscated a couple of Letterman's cue cards, saying, "these last two jokes are the intellectual property of NBC."

"Did you ever think you'd hear the words 'intellectual property' and 'NBC' in the same sentence?" Letterman said.

The Top 10 list remained a staple of Letterman's show until he retired last year.

Comedy Central does not repeat episodes of The Colbert Report, but fans can still access video highlights from the show's website, which has paid advertisements.

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During his interview on Wednesday's show, Colbert's "identical cousin" said, "Stephen, whenever you need me, wild horses ridden by corporate lawyers could not keep me away."

The Werd segment was identical to what he used to do, except for the 'e' in the name. On a split screen, Colbert narrated a story while printed messages on the other side provided the punchlines.

For instance, Colbert said that during the coming campaign, Hillary Clinton will say things that will make Donald Trump appear to be a racist. On the side screen came the words: "And so will Donald Trump."

He said there was another option for dissatisfied voters this fall: "Write in Michelle."

(Originally published by CBS News on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 4:22 pm ET)