It seems like forever since Stephen Colbert was a regular fixture on my television; The Colbert Report aired its final episode way back in December of 2014, which seems like a lifetime ago. I’ve missed him as a part of my daily viewing and while he’s been around in various forms on social media outlets, it hasn’t been quite the same. So I’m excited about the fact that his tenure on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert begins tonight; I’m ready to once again have my daily dose of Colbert.
Of course, most of the world primarily knows Stephen Colbert as “Stephen Colbert,” the character that he created who was a right-wing pundit that looked up to Bill O’Reilly. After doing that character for nearly a decade, he’ll be hosting The Late Show as himself. That might be a change for some people, but I think that they will be delighted with who he really is. I’ve had limited exposure to Colbert out of character, but he’s proven himself to be a charming, funny and delightful man and I think audiences will agree.
Ironically, when I saw Colbert “out of character” he was interviewing the man that he’ll once again be in direct competition with – a man by the name of Jimmy Fallon. Colbert is involved with the Montpellier Film Festival and for the last four years has participated in their main fundraiser, where he sits down and talks one on one with a famous person (Jon Stewart was his guest the first year, Steve Carrell did it last year and this year’s guest is J.J. Abrams). Even though going to Newark is never high on anyone’s list, I made the drive to see Colbert and Fallon and had a fabulous time. It was the first glimpse that I had of Colbert when he wasn’t being “Stephen Colbert” and he seemed to be warm and genuine and just a hell of a nice guy. I always liked the persona that he created for The Colbert Report, but seeing him just do his thing using his own identity was just as entertaining. When Colbert came out to speak with the audience before the taping of The Colbert Report that I attended, he only reinforced my good impression of him. So when it was announced that he’d be taking over for Letterman, I wasn’t wringing my hands like some observers about America adjusting to him as himself. If America doesn’t like Stephen Colbert when he isn’t being “Stephen Colbert,” then I weep for America. Because Stephen Colbert has proven to be nothing but awesome when I’ve seen him.
My concern, if you can even call it that, is that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is entering an already pretty saturated late night talk show field. Letterman has his own loyal audience that had been with him for years, but those people have had all summer to find other viewing options. The Tonight Show has become something of a ratings juggernaut, so I don’t envy anyone having to go head to head with that. I think Colbert already understands that he’s going to have to play the social media game to stay competitive; I don’t know how many people actually watch The Tonight Show every night, but people share the YouTube videos of the show’s funniest moments. The Tonight Show has totally figured out how to use social media to court younger viewers and keep people engaged with the show even if they don’t stay up to watch it (or DVR it every night like I do). The Late Show with Stephen Colbert would be smart to take a similar approach. The fact that Colbert did a web series over the summer is a good indication that they have already embraced this strategy. Despite the apparent friendship between Fallon and Colbert – both appeared on each other’s shows many times – The Tonight Show isn’t pulling any punches the first week that Fallon and Colbert go head to head; The Tonight Show has booked Jimmy’s BFF Justin Timberlake and everyone’s “favorite” presidential candidate Donald Trump, both of whom are guaranteed to get a lot of attention. I just hope that people don’t write off The Late Show if it doesn’t do amazingly in the ratings from the very beginning.
Even though I’ve been a vocal supporter (that’s probably an understatement) of Fallon and his various late night shows, I’m still planning to also DVR Colbert and The Late Show every night. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do this, especially with The Daily Show returning at the end of the month, but I’m more than ready to give Colbert a fair shake. Best case scenario – The Late Show is fabulous and pushed The Tonight Show to be even better. That’s a win/win for everyone, expect maybe Jimmy Kimmel. I’ve already snatched up my tickets to see The Late Show in October; hopefully I don’t injure myself on the way to this taping. I’m pretty underwhelmed with the new crop of fall TV shows this year, so there may be more room on the DVR for multiple late night shows in my regular rotation. I love The Tonight Show, but if The Late Show dazzles me, I would consider switching my allegiance to team Late Show.
We’ll have to see how this all plays out. I’m sure The Tonight Show is quaking in its boots over this.
Best of luck to Stephen Colbert and the rest of The Late Show crew tonight. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs weeknights at 11:35 pm on CBS.