The Late Show Gets a Makeover: Colbert Reports Again
by Sam Brigham on Friday, October 2nd, 2015
Late-night television talk shows have always held a special place in the hearts of Americans. With their loose format, casual aura, and timely content, these programs forge an intimacy with viewers in a way no other form of television can. In particular, The Late Show weaves humor and news together in a manner that appeals to many viewer demographics. After a 22-year stint on the show, David Letterman officially retired on May 20th 2015. Although Letterman’s career was a great success, the show’s ratings had declined below the ratings of Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show. At about the same time, CBS announced that they had signed a five-year contract with Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as Letterman’s successor. On September 8th, Stephen Colbert’s first episode aired, officially launching his career as the new The Late Show host. Although Colbert is considered a wise choice due to his appeal to younger audiences, Colbert still has big shoes to fill as the successor of a talk-show legend. However, I am confident that his talents as a comedian will serve him well in his new position.
Though Letterman and Colbert are both extremely talented hosts and versatile comedians, CBS chose Colbert as Letterman’s replacement in order to win over a new generation of viewers. Letterman’s style ridiculed the old-school late night shows that had been aired through the Johnny Carson era. Letterman’s show consisted of sketches, interviews, and musical performances. Critics characterized the show as both unpredictable and extremely entertaining at its peak. Later, many of his competitors—Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Craig Kilborn—began to emulate Letterman’s sarcastic style. By 2014, the show’s median age of viewers was over sixty. Unfortunately for Letterman, modern audiences require a young host who is unafraid to get really wacky. Colbert will need to prove to his viewers that politics won’t always be the center of conversation, although viewers can expect a great deal of political humor. Dropping the red-meat-eating conservative caricature he portrayed on The Colbert Report, Colbert will instead embrace his liberal views and challenge the many conservative guests he invites onto the show. Continuing Letterman’s tradition of calling out celebrities, Colbert has proven he excels at all varieties of satire. As one of today’s best interviewers, Colbert can appear very approachable, while preparing a killer line. Overall, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert should feel a little more fast-paced, biting, and youthful than it did with Letterman, and therein lies the appeal for modern audiences that require constant stimulation.
On September 8, 2015, Colbert’s first episode attracted 6.55 million viewers nationwide. Since then, Colbert has attracted high profile guests to The Late Show, including presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz. While many critics called the editing of the first few episodes “choppy,” the overall critical response has been overwhelmingly positive and most viewers have high hopes for the show’s future. Jam Smith (I) says that he has always found Colbert’s humor “amusing” and is confident that “[Colbert’s] comedic skills will transfer from one platform to another.” According to Vanity Fair’s Chris Galleta, Colbert has even been considered to come across as a sort of “hilarious chemistry teacher”. At least in his first couple episodes, Colbert seems to have succeeded in developing an effective persona for The Late Show and in winning over his audience. As the minor kinks in production are worked out and Colbert completely warms up to his viewers, America will no doubt come to love The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
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