Nearly eight a few months after he took over for a retiring David Letterman, Stephen Colbert continues to be figuring out his place in the ever-shifting late-night firmament.
Although “The Late Show” is directly ahead of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Reside! ” in the ratings this season, it trails NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” by about 900, 000 viewers each night, and its on the web audience is much smaller than those of either its immediate rivals. Even a historic berth after the Super Bowl in February — the first time a late-night show has aired with this slot — failed to produce a extensive ratings boost for “The Late Show. ”
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That’s certainly alarming for CBS, but will be certainly an important caveat: Late-night shows generally take time to find their groove. A case in point is Fallon, who’s now late night’s undisputed ratings champ and it has succeeded in making “The Tonight Show” fresh and exciting to a brand new generation of viewers, an end result few would have predicted after his widely panned debut on NBC’s “Late Night” in 2009.
Still, there is bound to be disappointment in CBS, especially since Colbert, who else in 17 years on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” became one of the country’s preeminent political satirists, isn’t dominating this year’s unpredictable, Trump-driven election-year discussion the way many assumed he would. Not only does he face a number of new competitors in the realm of politics humor, but without the buffer offered by his blowhard character, Colbert has sometimes seemed muted and unclear of his voice.
In mid-April, CBS announced that Philip Licht, the executive producer who’d helped turn “CBS This Morning” into a success, would be stepping right into a new role as show jogger and executive producer of “The Late Show. ” Some construed the move, reportedly suggested simply by CBS Chief Executive Les Moonves, being a sign of growing pains in the still-young show.
“The real dilemma is they need to discover who is Stephen Colbert, ” stated Jon Macks, a longtime author for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. ” “To work with a political analogy, a candidate cannot earn if you don’t know he or she is. ”
Until Licht joined the show on April 18, Colbert was essentially operating as his own show runner, an almost impossible task given the grinding pace of broadcast late night. By all accounts, the comedian is unusually detail-oriented and hands-on; for a while, he had been even functioning as “The Late Show’s” announcer. (Neither Colbert neither Licht would comment for this story. )
Colbert brought most of his mature writing and producing team along with him from Comedy Central, where they’d put on a half-hour display four times a week. At CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS, they’re responsible for more than twice that, five hour-long episodes a week.
As Robert Morton, who seem to served as an executive producer in order to Letterman at both NBC plus CBS, noted, the learning curve for virtually any new late-night show is high. “‘He’s been on the air not more than a year, and these are shows that consider many, many years to develop. ”
But there have been signs considering that Day One that things were not working smoothly. Colbert’s jam-packed “Late Show” debut almost didn’t make it to air flow because the taping ran so long. More recently, a prop for a segment called “Wheel of News” wasn’t operating, so Colbert resorted to utilizing an assistant’s arm for a lever.
“If you can free up the people that made ‘The Colbert Report’ a hit — certainly they’re brilliant — from the minutiae, it’s a great move, ” Morton said of Licht’s hiring.
Although Licht, who was previously executive producer of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe, ” doesn’t have experience in comedy, he understands the lifestyle at CBS, where he is well regarded. He has been instrumental in switching the once-struggling “CBS This Morning” into a contender by establishing this as the smarter alternative to “Today” and “Good Morning America. ”
A similar balance of smooth and substantive, of mainstream however upmarket, may be just the thing Colbert’s brainy “Late Show” needs. The host has aggressively bucked tradition with his guest bookings, mixing the typical assortment of Hollywood stars with writers, tech CEOs, and other newsmakers rarely seen on entertainment programs.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight, throughout Colbert’s first 100 episodes, his guest list skewed heavy to political figures, writers and business leaders, while his rivals made welcome more than twice as many athletes because Colbert. In the high school cafeteria recently night, “The Late Show” will be the table with the Model UN kids; “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live! ” are the jocks.
Colbert tends to sparkle in interviews, particularly with more substantive guests. This is an offshoot of their background in improv comedy, the discipline that is “all about vibing off of other people, ” notes Sophia McClennen, a professor at Penn State University and author from the book “America According to Colbert: Satire as Public Pedagogy. ”
Highlights have included Colbert’s moving interview with Vice President Joe Biden, exactly who opened up about the death of their son Beau, his Catholic belief and his ambivalence about a potential operate for president, and his conversation regarding white privilege with Black Lifestyles Matter activist DeRay McKesson.
Alas, such thoughtful conversations rarely ignite social media the way a lip-syncing Emma Stone might upon “The Tonight Show. ” Colbert lags behind his competitors in this department. “The Late Show” recently notched its millionth subscriber on YouTube, where the most-watched clip, featuring a good “all-Trump” GOP debate, has accumulated about 7 million views.
Not as well shabby, especially compared to Letterman, a late-night Luddite. But when it comes to digital reach, Colbert significantly trails each his competitors. Kimmel was perhaps the first late-night host to figure out the significance of viral videos with “I’m… Matt Damon” back in 2008. Fallon’s celebrity parlor games and musical mash-ups are reliable blockbusters online.
Colbert has even been eclipsed by his 12: thirty lead-out, James Corden. The English comedian was largely unknown in the U. S. before taking over “The Late Late Show” but provides proven to be a viral dynamo in whose infectious “Carpool Karaoke” segments frequently rack up tens of millions of views. (His session with Adele stands at 98 million and counting. )
“He has to think in terms of the digital play, ” said Morton. “You don’t want to look like you will absolutely pandering, but there’s a sophisticated way to do it. ”
When Colbert was announced as the new host of “The Late Show” two years ago, he and Jon Stewart were the two many dominant voices in American politics humor. With Stewart signing removed from “The Daily Show” just several weeks before Colbert’s CBS debut, standard wisdom held that Colbert might have an edge going into an election yr, but the late-night landscape has moved dramatically.
When it comes to topical comedy, Colbert now faces competition from “The Day-to-day Show With Trevor Noah” plus “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, ” both at his former home, Comedy Central. There’s also former “Daily Show” correspondent Samantha Bee, who’s brought a fresh, exclusively feminist perspective to late night along with “Full Frontal” on TBS. Also Seth Meyers, of NBC’s “Late Night, ” has positioned himself as broadcast’s answer to Stewart with his “A Closer Look” segments.
But if anyone has really stolen Colbert’s thunder, it’s Ruben Oliver. In just a fraction of the airtime — his half-hour show will be aired on on HBO just once a week — the former “Daily Show” correspondent provides arguably influenced the political conversation more than any other late-night comic this election season. He has done so while largely eschewing the 24-7 information cycle in favor of in-depth reports on neglected issues as with a portion on Donald Trump that will rebranded the GOP front-runner because “Donald Drumpf. ”
McClennen likens the “Donald Drumpf” segment in order to Colbert’s invention of the word “truthiness” in the early days of “The Colbert Report. ” “Can somebody perform a political bit that changes the public discourse? That’s what Colbert did with ‘truthiness’; it became section of the lexicon. That’s what Oliver is doing now. ”
Still, several “Late Show” segments have stood out for their political acumen. In his first night on the atmosphere, Colbert impressed critics with a little bit about the media obsession with Trump, in which likened covering the candidate in order to bingeing on Oreos. A more current segment perfectly skewered Sarah Palin’s linguistically tortured endorsement of Trump, while a popular recurring bit called “Hungry for Power Games” lampoons “fallen” presidential candidates in a way absolutely accessible to tweens.
But particularly given his generous reputation, Colbert faces a difficult task in capitalizing on his recognized strength as a satirist without alienating more conservative viewers. Perhaps consequently, he has occasionally seemed unwilling to visit for the jugular, as in a broadly anticipated interview with Trump. Some fans were hoping that Colbert would, to borrow the parlance of the Internet, “eviscerate” the bombastic billionaire; instead the host was polite and deferential, even apologizing for the “unforgivable” things he’d mentioned about the candidate.
In recent weeks, Colbert appears to have tweaked his politics material to make it more broadly entertaining. On the eve of the New York primary, he showed Hillary Clinton the simplest way to eat a slice of cheesecake simply by gobbling it in a single bite. The following night Republican House Speaker John Ryan made his first late-night TV appearance on “The Late Show, ” where Colbert frequently — and with increasing absurdity — pressed him about a rumored usa president run.
The satire of “The Late Show” will be “softer” than at “The Colbert Report, ” McClennen said, contrasting present-day Colbert with the persona this individual deployed to devastating effect on the 2006 White House Correspondents Supper, where he mercilessly roasted then-President George W. Bush, and in two mock campaigns for president that elevated awareness of the country’s lax advertising campaign finance regulations.
“That guy isn’t doing this show, inch McClennen said. “Right now we are going to not seeing a guy who’s will make history. ”
meredith. blake@latimes. com