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Late Bite

How will Craig Kilborn’s mean streak fare in Tom Snyder’s chair?

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Late-night viewers who think David Letterman isn’t sarcastic enough might get some satisfaction once the acerbic Craig Kilborn takes over for Tom Snyder on CBS’s “The Late Late Show.” The exact date of the turnover hasn’t been announced: Kilborn, 34, has a contract to host Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” until August 1999, although Snyder has said that he would like to leave by next May.

The two hosts — at least when it comes to their on-air style — are as different as night and late night. Snyder is fond of chatting about his mom and laughing heartily at the anecdotes of “I’ve Got a Secret” panelist turned actor Orson Bean. Kilborn, who was suspended from the “Daily Show” last December for misogynist jokes he made in an Esquire article, favors pull-no-punches interviews. In an interview with actor turned bubble gum pop sensation Joey Lawrence, he once asked, “Your last album sold 2.5 million copies. How come I don’t know anybody who owns one?” The camera then zoomed in on a visibly sweating Lawrence.

Kilborn has more in common with his younger-skewing NBC competitor, Conan O’Brien, than Snyder did. But that might not be what loyal — and historically older — CBS viewers want. “Kilborn is very funny, but his trademark is his mean-spiritedness,” says Entertainment Weekly TV critic Bruce Fretts. “He might tone himself down, but if he does, will that lose the essence of Craig Kilborn? And if he doesn’t tone down, that could alienate the [older] audience that CBS tends to court.”