Stephen Colbert & staff made their debut as keepers of The Late Show, finally taking over David Letterman’s stomping grounds at The Ed Sullivan Theatre. Since the April 2014 announcement that Mr. Colbert would take over The Late Show there has been plenty of questions and curiosity about the tone of the show. While he promised that the “Stephen Colbert,” the egomaniacal-conservative-blowhard-ignoramus character was put to rest wit the last episode of The Colbert Report some where skeptical.
There was no need to be. While Mr. Colbert’s style of comedy may not be for everybody, for those that do enjoy it you have found a home. Mr. Colbert’s origins are in improve comedy going back to his days as a Northwestern student, continuing at Second City [as Steve Carrell’s understudy], growing with Stranger’s with Candy, and finally coming to fame as his character “Stephen Colbert” during his Daily Show & Colbert Report days.
There are several different ways to do an early review like this;
- What went right / What went wrong
- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
- Loved it, Improve it, Kill it
- Or simply…a play-by-play review.
We are going with #4. No need to be fancy right now. The cold open was very meta; a tone that was kept for most of the show. It was very nice to see a string of Colbert Report nods so early in the show; the patriotic opening, the Jon Stewart cameo, the chanting of STEPHEN-STEPHEN-STEPHEN, and his addressing the audience with, “Hello Nation.” And then as quickly as these three events happened [seemingly back-to-back-to-back-to-back] Mr. Colbert looked shy and tried moving past the moment with a simple hand swipe. While I would not say that Mr. Colbert looked nervous I would equate it to seeing an old flame for the first time in a while; you know all the beats, you know what each other like, you still have the chemistry, but you need to settle down and catch up. Mr. Colbert looked as if he was anxious waiting for the moment and now that it was here he just needed to take a breath. If there was any flaw in the first show it was, as ALL early Late Night TV shows struggle with, the monologue. Mr. Colbert threw the attention to his band, lead by jazz musician Jon Batiste [stepping into Paul Shaffer’s bandleader role], as he tried settling into the monologue. He did a few jokes and as quickly as it all started he was behind the desk [a place Mr. Colbert was clearly more comfortable].
I stated, via twitter, last night that if anybody was going to turn the monologue on it’s head it would be Mr. Colbert and his staff. We just need to give him time to get settled in. The Late Night TV monologue is a TV standard and I understand that gravitas of it and how by itself it is a TV institution. You do not come in on day 1 and change that. Let the audience get comfortable with Stephen and let him earn their trust. Remember, it’s not just “The Nation” that’s following Mr. Colbert now, he is placed on a show that has, like the Tonight Show, become a TV staple.
Which Mr. Colbert is quick to point at once at the desk. This is David Letterman’s stomping grounds. Mr. Colbert is not there to replace Mr. Letterman, he is there to continue The Late Show.
Once at the desk Mr. Colbert’s The Late Show quickly set the tone. This is closer to Mr. Letterman’s NBC’s Late Night run then it will be his Late Show run. Mr. Colbert knows hiss strengths; improve, deadpans, and honesty. And in the first segments he nails all three. The Oreo bit, making the analogy of the media’s obsession with America’s weakness toward junk food [neither can put down their vice – it’s just TOO good], was spot on. It was a funny visual but it was also so much more. We wonder how many views got it on all levels?
What as good to note, and an example of Mr. Colbert & staff’s confidence, is that the went over 30 minutes before bringing out their first guest. And when they did bring out Mr. George Clooney, a tone was set by Mr. Colbert that his Late Show will differ from anything on TV right now by being honest. Mr. Colbert and Mr. Clooney are not friends nor do they know each other. Mr. Clooney is simply a very big name that actually draws viewers in [its astonishing to see Late Night TV Nielsen numbers – who you have as a guest barely moves the needle – there are only a few true “stars” that audiences who never watch your show will tune in for]. The awkwardness, pauses, but most importantly the honesty that came from the interview was rewarding. I look forward to more. The interview is one of Late Night TV’s biggest weakness. Few shows do it right. On one end of the spectrum Mr. Fallon makes sure that his Tonight Show guest have fun and the audience finds them likable, in the middle many guest try to make youTube moments or simply let their guest talk about their project, and on the opposite end was the great Mr. Ferguson’s old The Late Late Show. There the guest was treated with honesty and often a true awkwardness that flew in the face of conventional Late Night TV interviews. Mr. Ferguson did not care about talking points nor your latest project, he genuinely wanted to talk to you as a person and let the audience listen in. I feel Mr. Colbert has those same goals. On top of that he will bring sharp questioning and fun as was seen in his interview with Republican Presidential hopeful, Jeb[!] Bush.
Although it was such a small moment I liked that Mr. Colbert’s brother nailed the comedic timing of his head nod. And equally funny was Mr. Bush’s asking for his support in the South Carolina primary.
In short, I tweeted the following toward the end of the show:
— Arturo V. Leon II (@avleon2) September 9, 2015
I could not have said it any better. I have found my new Late Night TV show. I look forward to seeing the show grow into something legendary.
until tomorrow, goodnight.