Mr. Licht worked with ViacomCBS to get the necessary clearances. By mid-May, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted indoor regulations for mask use among vaccinated people, the show was well on its way to a return. Approval from New York State came May 22, Mr. Licht said.
After Mr. Colbert announced, three weeks ago, that he would soon be back onstage, others followed suit, including Bruce Springsteen, who said his “Springsteen on Broadway” show would return to the St. James Theater on June 26. Mr. Colbert’s NBC rival, Jimmy Fallon, welcomed back a full audience of just under 200 people for “The Tonight Show” last week, though attendees have been required to wear masks in his 30 Rockefeller Plaza studio.
The Ed Sullivan Theater, built in 1927, has hosted a number of dramatic moments in broadcast and New York history, including landmark performances by Elvis Presley and the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and David Letterman’s return to broadcasting six days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was restored to its former glory after CBS bought the building, for $4 million, as the venue for Mr. Letterman’s program in 1993. When Mr. Colbert succeeded him in 2015, the network refurbished it anew at a cost of $18 million. Until Monday, the last “Late Show” broadcast from its stage took place March 12, 2020, when the host delivered his lines to empty seats.
Mr. Licht said he was concerned about finding enough people willing to show up for the Monday taping so soon after pandemic restrictions had been lifted, a worry that proved unfounded. Twenty minutes after tickets were made available online, the show had received 20,000 requests, the producer said.
The vast majority of those who saw the return had their masks on their laps or in their pockets. There was even the sound of scattered coughing, and no one seemed shaken up by it.