CBS nailed this.
Stephen Colbert, just named to replace David Letterman, might seem in some ways an odd choice for a late-night broadcast host: He’s an intensely satirical comedian who at least, until now, has hosted his show in the guise of a self-righteous buffoon.
But he may also be the smartest person in late night. And the most likable.
As TheWrap recently reported, industry Q ratings based on viewer surveys found that Colbert is the late-night host who viewers find most agreeable. Those numbers don’t gel with the fact that Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel are No. 1 and 2 in the ratings, respectively. But Colbert’s numbers suggest he has untapped mass-audience appeal. CBS will give him a bigger platform for working his charm.
As experimental a performer as Colbert is, there’s a precedent for daring at CBS. Letterman also baffled some viewers when he debuted more than three decades ago with Stupid Human Tricks and other glorious absurdities. He was the first person to host a show from which he seemed ironically detached. Colbert took a brand of comedy Letterman invented and stretched it further.
As a darling of the Northeasternliberalintellectiualmediaelite, or whatever we’re calling it these days, Colbert may seem a tough sell to the vague, conceptual millions we condescendingly call Middle America. But I doubt he will be. Viewers meeting him for the first time may be surprised to learn he’s a South Carolina-bred Catholic whose opinions about barbecue sauce are as strong as his political views.
He clearly leans left, but he’s one of the few remaining television personalities capable of sitting down for a friendly and intelligent conversation with people who disagree with him.
And he doesn’t exactly parrot Democratic talking points every night. He takes aim at everyone in power, calling out hypocrisy wherever he finds it. It’s exactly what late-night talk show hosts are supposed to do.
Jimmy Fallon‘s best bits are apolitical, viral-ready set pieces that pair him with another celebrity, committing unabashedly to something gloriously silly. Kimmel’s best moments are diabolically clever pranks.
That leaves a big niche for Colbert — a satirist who does legitimate social commentary.
There has been some speculation that Colbert will have to drop his faux right-wing persona to appeal to a wider audience. Now that we know he will, it won’t matter. He’s smart, he’s funny, and he’ll find another way to keep us guessing.
The only disappointment here is the end of “The Daily Show” being paired every night with “The Colbert Report.” But Comedy Central has plenty of options for replacing Colbert: There’s Chris Hardwick’s addictive “@midnight,” for one — though it might have to change its name. And “The Daily Show” could replace Colbert with its deep bench of correspondents, the same one that brought us Colbert. Perhaps the network could lure John Oliver, who quite capably hosted “The Daily Show” last summer, back from HBO.
Comedy Central, like Colbert, will think of something.