Readers: Stephen Colbert’s still finding his footing
His first year as host of CBS's 'Late Show' has been hit-and-miss
October 17, 2016
The bit lasted less than a minute, but it was an important one for Stephen Colbert, who took over as host of “The Late Show” 10 months earlier.
The character of right-winging talk show host he’d retired more than a year earlier made a surprise appearance on “Late Show” during the Republican National Convention.
And in those 45 seconds, Colbert reminded everyone why he’d gotten the CBS job. He was confident. He was funny. Most of all, he was comfortable.
That, media buyers say, is what Colbert needs to be if his show is to succeed. They were disappointed by much of his first year, but most still think he has great promise, if he can learn to be as comfortable in his own skin as he was in the “Stephen Colbert” character he played on Comedy Central.
That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Media Life, inviting readers to weigh in on the current state of late-night TV.
At the top of their list of concerns: Colbert and how his first year has gone.
Readers weren’t impressed. Just 22 percent said he had a good first year. Thirty-eight percent rated it okay. But the largest share of readers, 40 percent, said he did poorly.
Many criticized his clear discomfort at being himself, after playing a character for more than a decade on Comedy Central.
“Colbert had a brilliant edge on Comedy Central that didn’t quite carry over to CBS. He seems like the format is a bit constraining,” observed one reader.
Others think his appeal is too narrow.
“More broad-spectrum style of humor is needed to garner enough share of viewing at that time. He also seems like an older generation talent and less with-it than Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel,” wrote another.
A few said Colbert remains too political for a broadcast show.
“Too political and left-leaning, plays to East Coast elite audience, not all of America like Letterman did,” wrote one.
Some readers feel that’s an advantage, though.
“He’s more political than Fallon or Kimmel, and for many viewers, that’s a distinct difference. All CBS needs to do is capitalize on that.
A slight majority of readers, 56 percent versus 44 percent, say that CBS made the right choice in tapping Colbert to take over for Letterman.
But they say the next year will be critical. Colbert’s well behind “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” in adults 18-49 and total viewers this season, according to Nielsen, though he’s beating ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Buyers: Here’s the ticket to success
For Colbert to close that gap, buyers have two main pieces of advice.
First, he needs to find his comfort zone, even if that means occasionally bringing back the Colbert character (CBS and Viacom are duking out a copyright fight that erupted right after Colbert brought him back, but certainly their proposed merger could make it into a non-issue).
Second, Colbert needs to embrace his different-ness. His humor is not as wide-appeal as Fallon, and that’s okay, because buyers love that he connects with an educated, intelligent audience, which appeals to advertisers.
“It’s nice to have a place for a more educated late night audience, interested in more than celebs playing games,” sniffed one reader.
Readers say that once Colbert finally settles in, his program should do better.
Wrote one: “Colbert is brilliant and I desperately want him to succeed, but just think he isn’t totally comfortable in his new role.
“But does he have potential? Absolutely.”
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