Stephen Colbert’s Debut Tops Late-Night Ratings

10 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Colbert Shines Bright On Premiere Of ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’.

NEW YORK (CBS) – The marquee outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater was brightly lit with a new name as “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” debuted. The Northwestern University and Second City alum, debuted as host on the “Late Show” on Tuesday, with George Clooney and Jeb Bush as his first guests.Stephen Colbert finally took the helm of the Late Show last night, and he wrapped up his premiere in spectacular fashion, with the help of more than a few special guests. In Chicago, his show ranked No. 1 its time period, and his household ratings (7.1/15 share) were a 238 percent increase over David Letterman’s (2.1/5) year-ago average.

As with Colbert’s sign-off from Comedy Central last winter, a number of familiar, if unexpected, faces appeared to back up Colbert’s house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human. The opening scene showed Colbert on a baseball field beginning to sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” He moves from different places across the U.S. while continuing to sing the song. It’s clear that he envisions his new gig as something semi-serious – comedy with flecks of Sunday morning news show mixed in. “Something tells us Colbert’s interviews will be fodder in the 2016 campaign,” noted Amber Philips of The Washington Post’s Fix political blog this morning. By way of comparison, Comcast’s CMCSA 0.18% NBC and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon did nearly half as well, scoring a rating of 2.4 Tuesday night in direct competition with the Colbert premiere, while ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live checked in with a 1.4.

There was “an ancient cursed amulet” that would, in due time, force Colbert to do on-air plugs for Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (“Scoop up the fun!”). The motley crew jammed out to a lively rendition of “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone—with Colbert providing an excellent vocal performance of his own. But there was also, placed on a shelf, the pennant that his mother had gotten, Colbert said, while attending Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Trump’s refusal to eat Oreos, since they’re made in Mexico now, and continued as Colbert tempted himself with Oreos, which became a sort of metaphor for the media’s obsession with replaying Trump video clips, since it’s so tempting but not good for you.

Ratings for Tuesday night’s premiere were up 172% over The Late Show‘s numbers for the same evening last year, and Colbert’s first episode beat the premiere from Letterman’s final season by 123%. Colbert, who had been off the air since December 2014 when his satirical “The Colbert Report” ended on cable channel Comedy Central, won generally favorable reviews for his first “Late Show” outing but failed to bowl over TV critics.

Colbert said, “I wanted to have Michelangelo paint it, but it turns out that Ninja Turtles aren’t real.” He also revealed his video wall where he can watch television. “I can watch if the guest gets boring over their shoulder,” he said. And while it’s silly to assess a show, especially a late-night comedy show, on its premiere—jokes and gags will be tweaked; hosts will adjust their deliveries; things will inevitably evolve—it’s notable, right off the bat, how much of a departure that little World Series line represented. But he added; “This show may not completely know what it is yet, but it knows exactly who its host is: a smart, curious, playful entertainer who’s delighted to be there.” Variety’s Brian Lowry said that “if the goal was to establish the CBS show as fun-loving (a silly bit with George Clooney) yet potentially topical (an interview with Jeb Bush), as another Bush family member might say, ‘Mission accomplished.'” “Tuesday night’s debut, so highly anticipated, so long in the making, came off as yet another frantic yet fundamentally formulaic iteration of your grandparents’ late-night talk show. There was very little that was sly and almost nothing that was subversive about the effort,” the Tribune’s Eric Zorn wrote. “1) Colbert plans to be a major player at the nexus of pop culture and the 2016 presidential election, and 2) he’s going to take politics and its players seriously.” The former Florida governor was clearly a bit nervous about the whole thing, which was understandable given that he had no idea what to expect from a brand-new show.

Of course, the pleasantries will only last so long, and the competition is already set to heat up quickly, as Fallon has plans to welcome Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Friday — an appearance that is sure to result in huge ratings for NBC. The real estate mogul has been a focal point for the media—and fodder for late-night hosts—since he joined the presidential race earlier this summer. In his debut episode, Colbert played at letting out months of pent-up frustration over not having an on-air forum to mock Trump’s unlikely ascent to the front of the Republican pack. “I will be covering all of the presidential candidates who are Donald Trump,” Colbert joked as Jeb Bush waited in the wings for his appearance later in the program. Colbert tweaked the formula a bit—his suit was cobalt blue rather than the typical dark blue or black; his band was peppier than most; his desk more comically large than usual.

But while there’s quite a bit of concern over the direction of the television industry in general, ad spending on network late-night talk shows, at least, jumped 14% last year, according to Kantar Media. But he also talked, explicitly, about politics. (The Oreo-eating was in fact part of a weirdly sophisticated joke comparing addictive junk food and Donald Trump.) He chatted with his brother, in the audience for the occasion, about their amiably differing political views. It may be early in the show’s run, but Colbert is already setting a precedent for booking guests beyond the traditional circle of Hollywood elite pitching their film and television projects.

Colbert also got the presidential candidate to utter a phrase that may well go down in political lore: When he asked the Bush brother about his much-mocked “Jeb!” logo, Jeb explained, delightfully dryly: “It connotes excitement.” To an extent, of course, none of this is new or noteworthy. In addition to the growing list of political figures set to take a seat next to Colbert on air, the new late-night show’s first week will also include appearances from tech industry titans, including Tesla Motors TSLA 0.57% CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The paperweight was inscribed, “I don’t know you.” Colbert told Clooney, “You can pass that one to another celebrity you have to pretend you don’t know.” The two even made up a fake movie for Clooney to star in called “Decision Strike” and even showed trailers for it. Colbert kept at it, saying that gun ownership is protected by a national document – the Constitution – so perhaps it needs to be controlled on a similarly national level.

Colbert asked Bush many questions, but one that had the audience intrigued was how he differed politically and in policy from his brother, former President George W. He wasn’t treating Jeb as a celebrity, giving him an easy opportunity for free, and content-free, media; he was treating him as a person who is running for political office.

I think he should have brought the hammer down on the Republicans when they spent too much, because our brand is limited government.” Bush even told Colbert that he will bring people together and complimented President Barack Obama. And part of why politics has become so polarized, while we’re at it, is likely that we’ve come to see the workings of government as things that exist separately from the rest of our lives. The sociologist Pablo Boczkowski talks about the reluctance many people have to talk about politics in a work environment, where such discussions can create unnecessary acrimony; instead, we silo ourselves, discussing the issues of the day, for the most part, with people we know will pretty much agree with us. The guest list for Colbert’s upcoming shows includes—along with the actors and comics you’d expect—Stephen Breyer, Bernie Sanders, and Ban Ki-moon.

It suggested a proposition that, until last night, seemed as absurd as it is simple: that late-night comedy, aired on a large network, can be funny and smart at the same time.

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