What to Watch on Tuesday: Colbert debuts on ‘The Late Show’

8 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Colbert Versus the Jimmys.

Even before Stephen Colbert delivers his first monologue Tuesday night as the second-ever host of CBS’ “Late Show,” the late-night wars are in full swing. Even during his early days on The Daily Show, Colbert’s faux news segments were often delivered through a character similar to the ill-informed, narcissistic blowhard he inhabited for nine years as the frontman of The Colbert Report.In honor of the occasion, CBS has given him an extra nine minutes, either so he won’t have to cut the applause short or so the Jeb Bush team in the audience will have time to pass the collection buckets. Colbert is scheduled to finish at 12:44 a.m., after a premiere show whose headline guests will be Bush and George Clooney, with a musical performance by Colbert’s bandleader, Jon Batiste, and his group, Stay Human. Jimmy Fallon trumped Colbert—literally—when NBC’s The Tonight Show host announced September 1 he had booked the leading Republican presidential candidate for September 11, the first Friday of Colbert’s new gig. “Let’s face it, whoever has Trump will be the winner that night,” says Barbara Lippert, a veteran media columnist and critic at online marketing news site MediaPost.

But here are five lesser-known facts about his life and career he’s revealed so far: Colbert grew up in Charleston, S.C., the youngest of 11 children. Tonight, Stephen Colbert, late of Comedy Central, arrives to become the second permanent host in the history of “The Late Show,” a franchise created in 1993 to give David Letterman a job. Colbert, who was tapped for this gig after his breakout success with “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, has spent the last few months on several projects, including the overhaul of the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the show will originate.

Much has been speculated about how Colbert will differentiate himself from Letterman or from late-night rivals Jimmy Fallon at NBC and Jimmy Kimmel at ABC. Colbert has also been working to keep the show in the news, since CBS has been filling the time slot with reruns of procedural dramas since Letterman’s final show May 20.

Colbert has posted a weekly podcast, created a series of comedic promotional videos and, for the past five days, posted “exclusive video messages” on Snapchat. COLBERT: I said I’d be honored but you know he’s gonna flop about like a fish on a dock if I start doin’ it and he said, yeah but do it anyway. (laughter) I was so nervous, I was so nervous, ‘cause I was literally afraid he would leave stage, you know. NBC apparently thought maintaining its No. 1 status was more important than the derogatory remarks Trump made that prompted the network in June to bounce him as host of The Celebrity Apprentice. Colbert barely graduated high school, and, as he recently told GQ, later found his way into improv theatre where one director advised young comics to “learn to love the bomb.” Colbert knows hobbits and dragons like most people know their phone number.

While the number of people who watch the show live at 11:30 at night still matters, the way the power and influence in late night is truly measured—and really, the way all media is measured anymore—is through your shares and click-throughs of easily consumable content. He also did a show in July with Eminem on Michigan Public Access Television, where he says he was offered a permanent hosting gig if CBS doesn’t work out.

Sure, the Jimmys have to fill an hour of content on a weeknight, but they do it in bite-size portions, more easily to be nibbled on in five-minute segments the next morning. Together, the two hosts have helped transform the late-night time slot, bringing spontaneity and social media to the genre—and with them, younger demographics — and ad dollars.

He and actor James Franco, a fellow fan, have thrown down on Tolkien trivia twice on air (Franco lost by a mile, both times) and in 2013 Colbert put an insanely esoteric question to director Peter Jackson during a live video chat in advance of the second Hobbit movie, in which Colbert made a cameo appearance. We’ll watch anyway, if only to catch the historic moment. “The Civil War” 9 p.m., PBS The remastered, high-definition reissue of Ken Burns’ monumental documentary continues. Even this summer, with “The Tonight Show” mostly in reruns, Fallon is averaging 3.8 million viewers a night, compared with 2.6 million for Jimmy Kimmel’s show on ABC or 2.4 million for CBS’ “Summer Showcase” of drama reruns.

When David Letterman began his stint on CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman 22 years ago, the audience was about 7.8 million viewers, reports the entertainment site, The Wrap; by last year, it had dwindled to under 3 million. But, as he demonstrated during an interview with his Late Show predecessor David Letterman, he can now tuck that ear inside itself, and pop it free at will. George McLellan’s Army of the Potomac bogged down in Virginia. “Playing House” 10 p.m., USA One of the best buddy comedies around wraps up its second season with two episodes. But toward the end of his shift, Letterman was the clear runner-up, with Kimmel in close pursuit among younger viewers. “What’s going to happen here is that Fallon will remain in the No. 1 slot, but Colbert will get the critical raves and settle comfortably into the No. 2 slot, just as Letterman did,” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, a professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska. “I think CBS will have to be very patient with Colbert’s new show because it could take a long while for ratings to grow,” echoed Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Indiana. Colbert is a deeply devout Roman Catholic and continued to teach Sunday school, schedule permitting, at his parish in New Jersey during his rise to fame on The Colbert Report.

The median age of his viewers was 61 when he exited, according to Billie Gold, vice president and director of programming research for marketing and communications giant Dentsu Aegis. Income had been declining in recent years, along with the audience, but with the arrival of the new generation of hosts, advertisers are buying again. You’ve let the popular kids appropriate the very art form that helped you deal.” He later deleted his Tweets and was chided by O’Brien for them. A couple of weeks, maybe a week and a half before he went off the air I went over to his office, we sat down, had a couple bottles of water, and I asked him a bunch of questions about doing the show and at one point—I’m the original Letterman fan—I said this to Dave; he started his first late night show in ’82, that’s when I started college.

Gold speculates that Colbert’s median age will settle in slightly lower than Fallon’s, at 53 or 54, with the first two weeks potentially even lower. With the departures of Jon Stewart and Colbert, Comedy Central also is going through transition and searching for ways not to lose the lucrative young audience those two comedians had provided the network for years.

The notion of a “talk show”—where someone (almost always a white man) tells some jokes and interviews a celebrity and introduces a band and then says good night to all the viewers gathered around a television set to watch him together—is so hopelessly outdated that it deserved to be overthrown. He said NBC didn’t want us to know we were doing well, we didn’t know anybody liked the show, we thought we were going to be cancelled at any minute. Coupled with the desirable demographics of its audience – young, well-educated and well-to-do – it made money for Comedy Central. “I would be surprised if CBS could be satisfied with a smaller but upmarket audience,” McCall said. “Networks need volume.

And after the recent announcements about the initial roster of guests, some advertising executives believe Fallon may have already won even before Colbert does his first show. “While CBS has done a spectacular job of promoting his debut, I think the roster of guests potentially may hurt his chances of attracting a mass audience.” says Dentsu Aegis’ Gold. “I was a little surprised at the degree of concentration on political and business types. On September 8, Colbert’s debut, Late Show has Jeb Bush and Clooney while The Tonight Show’s guests include actor Richard Gere and entertainment personality and fashion designer Jessica Simpson and New Zealand-born country music singer and American Idol judge Keith Urban.

But it’s undeniable that he’s the last best hope for anyone who wants a break from the tyranny of the Jimmys and the Shareable Clip of Celebrities Being Just Like Us. As we’ve noted before, Colbert’s strength as a performer isn’t just his comedic dexterity; it’s the fundamental maturity and kindness of the Sunday school teacher he is, at his core, that can’t help but come out on stage. On September 9, Fallon is arguably bringing out bigger celebrity names—Justin Timberlake, Ellen DeGeneres, and hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis against Colbert’s Scarlett Johansson, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and rapper Kendrick Lamar. In Week 2, Colbert has snagged Vice President Joe Biden, who some have speculated may use the appearance as an opportunity to declare his candidacy for president—or shoot the idea down.

After all, Colbert has a history of getting politicians from both sides of the aisle to loosen up. (In some very shareable clips, by the way.) What started with Better Know a District—a segment so popular that Rahm Emanuel once requested Democrats on the Hill not appear on it, an edict later rescinded by Nancy Pelosi—eventually led to presidential candidates past and present regularly appearing on the show. Maureen Ryan, the television critic for The Huffington Post, sees Colbert as wisely avoiding the head-to-head competition over the latest hot name, depending instead on his congenial, but at times almost ruthless interview style as well as his substantial grounding in improvisational comedy. “You saw at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner that Colbert just isn’t afraid to say or ask anything,” Ryan says, referring to Colbert’s notorious 2006 skewering of George W. Colbert’s show was always less partisan than Jon Stewart’s, even filtered through Colbert’s character, and at its center was always its big heart. Another thing going for Colbert is the savvy way he has been promoted by CBS, including a now infamous promo spot with Mitt Romney looking for the pancakes he was promised to appear. “There will be a certain amount of discomfort that both [Colbert] and his audience are going to have to go through until he establishes his new voice,” MediaPost’s Lippert notes. “Colbert is more likely to be an acquired taste.”

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