By Brian Klose
Late night television is going through one of the greatest shifts in the genre’s history. Many household names, including David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and Jon Stewart left the their hosting positions either to retire or move onto other opportunities and projects. This late-night changing of the guard has been a gradual process over the past several years, starting with Jimmy Fallon’s promotion to host of the “Tonight Show” in early 2014. The most recent and arguably most notable hosting change is Stephen Colbert’s takeover of the Late Show on CBS. “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” debuted on Sept. 8 to 6.55 million viewers, and has remained popular throughout its first few weeks. The premiere and later episodes follow a formula that caters to regular network late night viewers and fans of the Colbert Report.
The premiere of the “Late Show” began with a montage of Colbert singing the “Star Spangled Banner” with various celebrities and average Americans around the country, and concluded with a welcome cameo from Stewart kicking off the show. Following the opening bit, Colbert emerged from the curtains of his new studio to an ecstatic audience chanting his name, similar to the opening of the “Colbert Report.” As a fan of the “Report,” it was a good feeling hearing the audience chant like it was just another episode of his previous gig.
As the audience settled down, Colbert humbly welcomed his viewers with his inaugural late night monologue. The monologue has consistently been the weakest part of the show only because Colbert is least experienced in stand-up, visual-free comedy. Many of the jokes involved the on-going ridiculousness of the presidential race, and it was clear from his monologue that politics would have a huge influence on his material.
Following his monologue and the opening title sequence, Colbert returned to his desk and instantly entered his comfort-zone. The act was formatted similar to his standard set up on the “Report” with Colbert addressing his audience and a sequence of photo shopped images complementing his jokes. Again, as a long-time fan, the return to his older format was a welcomed and hilarious choice. The show, in its entirety, was basically an hour-long version of the “Colbert Report.”
Since the show’s premiere, “The Late Show” has been lauded not only for the host’s jokes and video sketches but also for his personal and memorable interviews, specifically with politicians. Colbert interviewed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush during the premiere. The interview was light-hearted and conversational, but it was clear the guest was aware of Colbert’s pundit-parody days at the “Report” and gave away little personality. The third episode, however, was the first example of Colbert’s grounded take on interviews. Vice President Joe Biden was the show’s guest on Sept. 10. Colbert quickly made the interview personal by asking the vice president to touch on the recent loss of his son Beau, daughter, and first wife. Biden and Colbert proceeded to give one of the most saddening and inspiring interviews ever between a politician and TV personality. Colbert is no stranger to tragedy, losing his father and two brothers at an early age, and his empathy for Biden was a piece of television intimacy that is extremely rare in today’s late night scene. Colbert’s honest, professional, and seriously funny contribution to late night television is grooming him towards becoming the new “king of late night.”