Five Hopes We Have For ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’
Stephen Colbert’s conservative character that he currently plays on ‘The Colbert Report’ will be gone, replaced by the actual Stephen Colbert – a guy, kind of surprisingly, not a lot of people know, as opposed to the character he’s been playing since 2005.
What will ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ look like, as opposed to Letterman and Colbert’s current show? Here are our hopes:
At least, maybe there doesn’t have to be a monologue in the traditional sense. Though, this seems unlikely because it’s such a ingrained part of the current late night structure. And because it’s so ingrained, that seems like a good reason to say, “Let’s not do that anymore.” But, the facts are: People like it. Leno, for all of his faults, knew this and that’s one reason that his show always led in the ratings. Letterman, who actively disliked the monologue, actually extended his in recent years to compete with Leno. (If you go back and watch old episodes of ‘Late Night with David Letterman,’ it’s actually remarkable how quickly Letterman would fly through his monologue so that he could get to a segment that he actually cared about.) Even Jimmy Fallon has taken Leno’s lead and increased the amount of time he spends on a monologue. The chances are we will be seeing Colbert do a traditional monologue.
Let Colbert be Colbert
Back in 2005, I requested tickets to see ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.’ My request was granted! But, the show I would be attending — because of the enormous waiting list — was almost a year later. The person on the phone asked me if I’d like to attend something sooner, “Stephen Colbert is getting his own show.” I attended the third ever episode of ‘The Colbert Report’ and before the show started – as is the case with most television shows with a studio audience – the host will come out and take questions. Today, Colbert even does this in character, but back then, he didn’t. I was one of three audience members to ask Colbert a question and, each time, he came off as a very charming, very gracious, and very likable guy. I have no doubt that the real Colbert will win over audiences.
Colbert, as his character, doesn’t really get the opportunity to do this much anymore – but Colbert is a brilliant sketch comedy performer. If you doubt this, go back and watch any of the clips of him performing on the short-lived ‘The Dana Carvey Show.’ (In 2011, I authored an oral history of ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ and I spoke to an out-of-character Colbert at length about his time on the show. And a very gracious Colbert was the first cast member who agreed to talk to me about the show.) Anyway, here’s a sketch in which Colbert and Steve Carrel are playing waiters who get nauseated by the mention of food. Let’s hope Colbert goes back to his sketch comedy roots a bit — roots that Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers currently take advantage of using.
Most importantly, like Letterman, Stephen Colbert is an excellent interviewer. And on ‘The Colbert Report,’ even in character, Colbert manages to conduct some of the best interviews going in late night television today — imagine what he can do just as himself having a conversation. Now, of course, he’s going to have to interview more celebrities than he’s used to talking with on a weekly basis, as opposed to authors who have written an interesting book or politicians.
Now, here’s the good news: Currently, Colbert gets around two full hours of late night programming a week. When he moves to ‘The Late Show,’ the number will bump up to five full hours. Instead of one guest a night, he can have three. After, say, Jennifer Aniston plugs her latest movie, Colbert can still have on the kind of guests that we currently see on ‘The Colbert Report.’
This will be the toughest challenge, especially on the more conservative CBS. Then again, Letterman has never shied away from calling a politician a bozo. It’s a tough line to tow, because it makes no sense for Colbert to alienate half of his audience by being as direct about his politics as he is now. (Remember, this is the man who skewered George W. Bush right to his face.) But, there’s still a way to do it and it’s hard to imagine that Colbert won’t find a way to get his message across. There seems to be some worry across the Internet that Colbert will be de-fanged at CBS, but Colbert is just way too shrewd for that to happen.
Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.