Late Show is an icon in the history of television. So, when David Letterman, the first ever host of the show, announced his retirement, it was almost impossible to think of a replacement. After much speculation, the job went to Stephen Colbert, the host of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show on Comedy Central.
David Letterman had hosted the Late Show for 22 years before he announced his retirement in the April of 2014. The Late Show premiered its first episode in the August of 1993. It was produced by CBS and Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated. Letterman’s satire, presence of mind, humor and charm, among other things made the show a grand success. Other than Letterman’s popularity and the ratings of the show, its success can be gauged from the fact that the TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time placed it in the seventh position.
Though The Late Show always had a high viewership, it was experiencing a decline in the recent years. In 2013, 3.1 million people watched the show on an average. This went down to 2.8 million, the following year. There was another area of concern for the show that may have had the network go looking for a replacement. Among all the talk shows on air, the Late Show, had the highest proportion of older audiences. A decision to bring in a younger host may have been made to attract the younger crowd, as well as give a boost to the show to improve ratings.
There is no doubt Colbert was facing sky-high expectations when he took over the legendary Late Show from an equally iconic host, David Letterman. If you do equally well, nobody notices. But, if you have even so much so as a glitch, you are doomed. So, the only real option that Colbert had was to put up a spectacular show and so he did. Undoubtedly, there was pressure, but Colbert seemed absolutely comfortable in his skin as he began his journey as the host of the Late Show.
The show was successfully able to capture the feel of the Late Show, as under Letterman, and that was one of the major factors that Colbert must have been vying for. The other big hurdle that he would have to cross is that he had to separate himself from the past shows that he had done.
The show began with the new host singing the national anthem. The overnight rating of the show indicated that people definitely wanted to sample Stephen Colbert. The ratings were not only high, but showed a little more than a 100% jump over the season premiere of the last season with David Letterman. The press was also all praises for Stephen Colbert. ‘Colbert Shines’ was what The New York Post had to say, while the Los Angeles Times said, ‘Colbert Is Off To a Strong Start’. It is definitely a great start. Nevertheless, the real test for Stephen Colbert will be the ratings for the subsequent episodes. This will show how many people actually like his hosting and actually enjoyed the show.
Stephen Colbert was visibly ecstatic. So much so that he even broke into a dance. He started the show with a tribute to the man who made it all happen, David Letterman, that too in his own eclectic style. He said “We will try to honor his achievement by doing the best show we can and occasionally making the network very mad at us.” Then there was also a surprise from Jimmy Fallon, his head-on competitor, who wished him luck. Then began the Trump-a-mania. Stephen Colbert started with Donald Trump’s speeches about abstaining from Oreo and then just kept going, leaving the audience laughing.
His long list of Trump jokes later gave way to a stream of guests on the show. The very first guest on the first ever Late Show with Stephen Colbert was George Clooney. Now, he does not know Clooney personally, but he decided to get him a wedding present, after one year of the ceremony. No less, a paper weight that said, ‘I don’t know you’. This particular segment, though interesting initially, later became more of a stretch. Clearly, Colbert needed to work on the substance of his interviews with movie stars, other than talking about their charities. Although a noble cause indeed, that is not what the audience is looking for on this platform.
Though he has donned a new avatar for The Late Show, political satire has always been and is still a big part of Colbert’s repertoire. So, how could he not invite someone from the political arena? He sure did. His next guest was Jeb Bush. Colbert thanked him for joining the show and that was where the niceties ended. One pointed question after another combined with Colbert’s quick wits made the interview one of the highlights of the show. Being a Republican candidate for the post of president, Jeb Bush had been campaigning a lot, and this was where most of the questions came from. He also asked him about how he was different from his brother, by bringing in his own brother in the audience and telling about their differences. Given the fact that Colbert has been into political humor, this was an area he had no problem playing the host to. The first edition of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert ended with a sing-along with Mavis Staples and the band.
The show was recorded for two hours and was edited to fit its one hour format. The show went through quite a long production process of 9 months. It was tightly packed to accommodate as much action as possible to keep the audiences glued. The several months saw a continuous stream of promotions to ensure that there was enough build-up by the time the Late Show with Stephen Colbert actually aired. The network went all out to make the show feel grand and measure up to the institution that the Late Show is. There is a lot of competition in the late night show format and despite a big name, Stephen Colbert will have to carve a niche to keep his audiences coming back for their weekly fix of entertainment. This will redefine the show itself. Everything said and done, it was apparent that the host is more than excited to be doing his job and that is always a good sign. The smart, humorous, accessible and entertaining host that Stephen Colbert is, the show is going to be a crowd puller.
If you are already like Stephen Colbert, then you would find be satisfied with his performance. However, if you are watching him for the first time, you would be entertained and would want to check out his next appearance on the Late Night Show. The show had some glitches but then again, it was just one episode. Given the caliber of Stephen Colbert, these will be ironed out. Another interesting thing to note here is that the show changed its last host in 22 years, and it will be safe to say that Stephen Colbert is also in for the long haul and that a new era of Late Night Show has just begin.