The Return of Stephen Colbert

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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.

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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.

Heather Visits the Monologue Rehearsal for The Tonight Show

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I have been extraordinarily lucky in my ability to score tickets to see tapings of TV shows. I was able to go see Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show (twice) and The Colbert Report with little obvious effort. This has been amazing, but it has also given people the illusion that I have some sort of connection that makes getting these tickets easier for me than for others. I assure you that I don’t – I’ve benefitted from good timing and doing research online to figure out how to increase my chances – but because I’ve been able to see so many shows, I now have a list of probably close to twenty people that have requested that I get them tickets to see The Tonight Show. The Tonight Show has become a particularly difficult ticket to procure; it’s a victim of not only its own popularity, but also the fact that they now give a lot of advanced notice as to when tickets will be released. The last time I nabbed tickets to The Tonight Show, it was in their first month of production and you had to pay attention to Twitter to know when tickets would randomly be available. This system rewarded people that were paying attention and I happened to be one of those people. Now the demand is way higher for tickets and even I, who allegedly have the magic touch, have been shut out the last two months that I tried to get tickets for friends. Too many people now know when tickets will be released and if you don’t hop into the virtual queue immediately, you are likely SOL.

One slightly easier way to experience The Tonight Show is to get tickets to the monologue rehearsal. This doesn’t allow you to get the full Tonight Show experience, but does give you the opportunity to see Jimmy Fallon as they try out the jokes that are in consideration for that evening’s show. Frustrated at my failure in obtaining tickets for the show, I decided to take a flyer on a request for monologue tickets. To my surprise, my request was granted fairly quickly and yesterday my friend Amanda and I headed to Rockefeller Center to check it out. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the rehearsal – it was only scheduled to be for 30 minutes and I had no idea what the format would be. I knew Jimmy would be there, but I had no idea if we’d see The Roots or Steve Higgins as well. I didn’t know if the smaller setting would give Jimmy more opportunity to interact with the audience or not. Since I’d already seen The Tonight Show, this was just a different way for me to experience the show, but I didn’t know if it would be disappointing to people who wanted to see the full live show.

In addition to changing how they release tickets to the show, it appears that they have also changed the process for checking in. Like most shows, you are not guaranteed a spot until you are fully checked in. They overbook to make up for no shows, so it’s the same nerve wracking process as you hope that there aren’t too many people in line ahead of you. While previous check-ins for both Late Night and The Tonight Show were done in the NBC Experience Store, this time we were taken to a Mezzanine level to wait in line. This was a much nicer looking room and had the advantage of having plush benches where you could sit down while waiting. Don’t underestimate the ability to sit down – one of the worst parts of waiting to check in at these shows has been the long periods of standing around, often smooshed in with a lot of other people. I was so tired of standing the first time that I went to see The Daily Show that I even sat down on the sidewalk, which is not something I’d usually recommend in the City (desperate times, desperate measures). So it was a much more luxurious experience this time around and made the stressful wait at least more comfortable.

The people who had priority tickets are automatically granted access to the rehearsal, while people with general tickets have to wait to see if there is room. I had no idea how many people they allowed into the rehearsal, so it was hard to gauge the likelihood of success in getting in. Every time some latecomers came up the stairs, I was rooting that they had general tickets rather than priority so they wouldn’t leapfrog us in line. As I told Amanda, “I’m not rooting against them, per se, but I am rooting for me.” I started to get nervous as they became slower and slower in checking people in; when we were the next in line, I told the young woman who was guiding us through the process that Amanda and I would share a seat if that would increase our likelihood of getting in (FYI – I did not run this by Amanda before I said it). The woman laughed and said that wouldn’t be necessary – we were definitely getting in. They were just backlogged with people going through security. She obviously got a kick out what I said, though, since she saw us in the studio later and made a joke about us getting our own seats. I was so relieved once we checked in, since we were now guaranteed a spot. I didn’t mind so much if I missed out, but I would have hated to have had Amanda schlep in from Long Island for nothing. The irony is that I had actually been upgraded to priority tickets, but didn’t know it since I hadn’t checked my e-mail. So I worried for nothing.

Usually once you get your tickets for these shows you are instructed to come back at a certain time, which is always a pain in the butt as it is a period of time that is long enough to be a hassle but not long enough for you to actually do much of anything. I don’t know if they have changed it for the actual Tonight Show taping, but we were immediately sent into a lounge to wait until we were ushered into the studio. The lounge was quite nice – lots of couches and video picture frames that cycled through moments from The Tonight Show. It was a definite upgrade over the last time I saw The Tonight Show, when we stood in a hallway for what felt like forever. Again, I was pretty psyched to have the opportunity to sit down and relax for a bit. A gentleman came out to get us hyped up and to remind us for the hundredth time that we couldn’t take any photos. I’m not sure what they were worried about with photos of the lounge or the Mezzanine level, but rules are rules and I complied without question.

We were then taken up to the studio level, where we spent some time with one of the writers of the show. She went through the process of writing the show and explained to us why we were such an important part of the process. Our reaction to the monologue jokes would help determine which jokes made the cut to the final show. They kept emphasizing how critical the rehearsal audience was, which I think was not only a way to ensure that we were enthusiastic but to also make people feel better about seeing the rehearsal rather than the live show. She told us some funny anecdotes about how people had behaved during previous rehearsals as a cautionary tale as to what NOT to do. She sang Jimmy’s praises, saying that he works as hard on the show as anyone and that they only have these rehearsals with an audience because he demands them. We were also told that they would be doing a pre-recorded skit for us that would be used in the show, so that our laughter would be the soundtrack. This was something special that they don’t always do, so that was an added bonus to being at the rehearsal that day.

They actually started things off with the pre-recorded bit, which involved Barack Obama (Dion Flynn) calling Donald Trump (Jimmy Fallon) on his cell phone after Gawker leaked the number.

 

The sketch was very funny and because it involved music we got to see some of The Roots as well (though not Questlove or Tariq). The song at the end also went on much longer than what made the broadcast; they did almost the entire song for us and the audience was all clapping along in unison. I even got to drop some knowledge on Amanda and tell her that Dion Flynn actually went to college at the University at Albany (where I used to teach) and was a friend of Jimmy’s from when he went to St. Rose (also in Albany).

Because there wasn’t time for a costume change, Jimmy wound up doing the monologue for us in his full Donald Trump make-up, which was pretty funny. He loved the wig that he was wearing and occasionally went off on a few tangents about it in-between trying out the jokes. They also used Meerkat to live stream the rehearsal and we were getting updates as to how many people were watching. The only downside of that is that Jimmy gave a little more attention to the live stream than to us; he would occasionally talk to the audience on-line rather than us. He did, however, interact with the rehearsal audience more than he does during a live taping, which isn’t saying much since he generally doesn’t interact with the audience much at all during a taping. We had been told that he sometimes talks to the audience during rehearsal, but that didn’t happen with us, perhaps because of the pre-taping. Regardless, it was still fun to hear them trying out the jokes. Our reaction did appear to have some sway on what made it to the actual monologue, as the jokes that we had the biggest reaction to made it to air. We heard a lot more political jokes, but they were kind of a mixed bag and I think they picked the strongest of the bunch. Jimmy and the writers would make some notes after each joke was told, based on how big the reaction was. I thought that the Lincoln Chaffee bit was particularly funny, since I always tell people about Chaffee wanting to move the U.S. to the metric system. The only joke that I liked that didn’t make the cut was one about Ronda Rousey being responsible for Jimmy’s injury.

And then, before we knew it, the rehearsal was over. Jimmy thanked us for our feedback and for coming to see the show and we were quickly escorted out of the studio. The whole process, from check-in to the end of the rehearsal, took only 90 minutes. Seeing the full Tonight Show taping is more fun – especially if they have good guests – but going to see a rehearsal was a new way for me to experience the show and appears to be a slightly easier ticket get. I’m someone who is interested in how The Tonight Show is crafted, so it was a nice peek behind the curtain to better understand their process and how they decide what makes it to air. The monologue rehearsal will tide me over until the next time that I’m able to get tickets to the live taping…..whenever that may be.

Monologue tickets can be obtained here. September tickets to the live Tonight Show taping will be released Thursday August 6th at 11 am (ET) through a new ticketing process.

Some Thoughts on Lip Sync Battle

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Last week, Spike TV debuted their new show Lip Sync Battle, based on a popular recurring segment on The Tonight Show. This show couldn’t have been any more up my alley if they tried; in fact, I’m not sure that they didn’t have some sort of secret insight into my brain to determine what would make me happy. I’ve written before about my love of lip syncing in general and the segments on The Tonight Show have been among my favorite things that they have done. Add in that John Krasinski is among one of the creators of the show and that the debut episode featured a lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and there aren’t many more boxes that you could have ticked off the make me ridiculously happy. Just as icing on the cake, LL Cool J is the host of the program, who I also enjoy. The stars were aligned for me to totally fall in love with this program and I tuned in to the first two episodes on Thursday with great anticipation and excitement. Of course because I’m me I also had some doubts – could they really make an enjoyable half hour program from based on a short segment of another show? – but I generally went into the experience with high hopes.

I am happy to report that in general Lip Sync Battle lived up to the hype. Kicking off the series with Jimmy Fallon, who obviously knows what it takes to make an entertaining segment and has a vested interest in the show’s success as an executive producer, and The Rock, who is pretty much game for anything, was a smart decision and definitely started the series off on the right foot. The willingness of the participants to commit to the premise of the show and to be silly is crucial to its success and based on who is appearing on upcoming shows it is clear that they get that. Overall, Lip Sync Battle is a fun little diversion and a nice way to start the kickoff to the weekend.

The show uses the same general premise as the segments on The Tonight Show – each contestant lip syncs two songs and then a winner is chose by audience applause. The second performance tends to be more over-the top and involves costumes and props. They don’t perform the entire song, but they do lip sync longer portions than they do on The Tonight Show. Even with the extended songs, there is still some need for filler to make a 22 minute program, so they add in some interviews with the contestants and have Chrissy Teigen on hand to give color commentary and fulfill the necessary “hot babe” quotient for all Spike TV programming. There’s also some gamesmanship between the contestants throughout the show, as they banter and trash talk.

To give you an idea of the additional pageantry involved, here are Jimmy Fallon and The Rock’s second performances from the premiere episode:

 

I always suspected that The Rock had some sweet dance moves.

Though the show was generally a lot of fun, I did have two complaints about it. The first was the presence of Chrissy Teigen, who adds absolutely nothing to the show. If she was just there to look nice, that’s fine – let’s be honest about why she’s there – but the fact that they insist on having her speak and give an opinion is a complete waste. She’s got nothing to say, frequently stumbles over her words and she was incredibly annoying on the episode that her husband John Legend appeared on. I’d much rather that they either eliminate her role completely or if they gave more of her limited screen time to LL Cool J, who is much more experienced and probably could come up with something to say that was actually interesting or articulate.

The bigger issue I have with the show is the way that Spike TV has chosen to promote it. I would have been way more excited to see The Rock and Jimmy Fallon perform their songs if I was didn’t know what they were doing. Instead, Spike TV shows clips of the upcoming performances as they go in and out of commercial breaks, so any element of surprise is eliminated. Seeing The Rock dressed up like John Travolta three minutes before the actual lip syncing kind of takes some of the fun out of it. Because the songs that most of the contestants are preforming are pretty well known, it doesn’t take more than a second or two to recognize the costume or set design and know what’s coming down the pike. They did this not only for the performances within the episode but for upcoming performances as well. In some ways, I feel like I don’t even need to tune into the show – just watch the promos and you’ve seen all the moments that people will be talking about the next day. Half the fun of the segments on The Tonight Show was that the song selections were so unexpected and were not teased ahead of time. I get that they have to promote the show somehow, but spoiling most of the content ahead of time is probably not the way to do it. There’s got to be some balance. At this point, I know pretty much all the songs that people are performing for the rest of the season and we’re only on episode two.

Despite these annoyances, I still gave Lip Sync Battle a season pass on my DVR. There are probably ways that this could be executed better and I am skeptical that this will be a long running show as the premise will eventually get played out, but it’s still a fun little way to spend some time. The quality of the contestants will make a big difference; as long as they can keep a steady supply of big names on the show, they’ll be in good shape. Right now a lot of the people that are appearing on the show are somehow directly connected to it – co-creators Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Stephen Merchant are all appearing – or are friends with people that are directly connected. I’ll be curious to see who appears in later seasons after obvious contacts have been exploited. Still, based on the buzz that I’ve seen online, the show is off to a good start; The Rock lip syncing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” certainly caught a lot of people’s attention.

Lip Sync Battle is worth checking out overall; there’s room for improvement, but even in its current form it will make you smile.

Lip Sync Battle airs Thursday nights at 10 pm on Spike TV.