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Stephen Colbert -- in character of course -- last night addressed the David Letterman succession, but apparently had not heard the news: That he -- Stephen Colbert -- was the guy who was going to replace him.
"Dave has been on the air my entire adult life . . . I learned more from watching Dave than going to my classes, especially the ones I did not go to because I had stayed up until 1:30 to watch him . . . I do not envy whoever they put in that chair . . ."
Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," was named Thursday to replace David Letterman as host of CBS' "Late Show." Colbert will remain at Comedy Central for eight more months and take over "Late Show" sometime in 2015.
In a move that even CBS acknowledged came together with lightning speed, the network said it and Colbert had agreed to a five-year deal, and that negotiations had begun only after Letterman had announced his retirement last Thursday. Colbert also affirmed he would not play his "Colbert Report" character as host of "Late Show." "I won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it," Colbert said in a statement.
And he added: "Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career. I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead."
In his own statement, Letterman said, "Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I'm very excited for him, and I'm flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses."
Colbert - who turns 50 next month, was expected -- I reported here at TV Zone over a month ago. But this quick an announcement was not. Clearly CBS wanted to get the speculation behind it and begin laying the groundwork for the transition as as soon as possible.
Of immediate concern for New Yorkers: CBS did not announce a venue, and the network long ago wanted Dave to go west. Will the same pressure be brought to bear on Colbert? Reasons for a westward move are many, but the studio space in California (at TV City) is vast...But a New York venue makes sense too. First of all, there is the Ed Sullivan Theater -- a baton hand-off from from one of the great hosts in TV history to his replacement would have immense appeal. Second, the city's energy has been a boon for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" -- which has simply fed off it. Another factor in favor of NYC: If Colbert brings his staff, as he almost certainly will, a cross-country move for dozens and dozens of critical staff members is difficult. It is certainly not insurmountable: Conan O'Brien did it, after all.
Reasons for this quick announcement -- Letterman only announced that he was ending his 32 years in late night just a week ago -- are obvious. Colbert's deal with Comedy Central -- where he will remain the next eight months -- was nearly over, and both he and CBS had made their mutual interest known. Moreover, this ends speculation -- will Tina Fey replace Dave? Neil Patrick Harris? -- all of which tends to be distracting, especially when unfounded.
CBS's upfront announcement to advertisers also falls next month- - and this question would certainly have come.
But here's the key reason: These transitions take time -- time for the hosts to get used to the idea, time for viewers and fans. Colbert's transition is somewhat tricky: After all, he must morph out of, to a certain degree anyway, his current persona. He must assemble a staff -- although undoubtedly he will bring his crew from Comedy Central.
Then there are the other particulars: The aforementioned venue? Will there be a band? A sidekick? All those elements that seem set in stone -- except that they are not.
And how will Colbert change his persona....? That is hardly a major issue. It is not even an "issue" -- but a silly distraction that the press and other observers seemed to take seriously for a time. Check out this earlier post, if you have not done so already, which has a handful of clips that demonstrate Colbert's range and facility. The Oprah Winfrey clips are good as well, for they provide some essential background of this extremely bright TV personality.
Colbert's character -- created during his years at "The Daily Show" before he launched his own late night series in 2005 -- is a partial representation of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, both of whom have sparred-on occasion, not in the friendliest of terms -- over the years. As recently as Tuesday's "The O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly said that Colbert has "damaged the country," although Thursday he seemed to step away from the jab. In a statement released to Time.com, he joked: "I hope Colbert will consider me for the Ed McMahon spot." Other conservative pundits attacked the hire, notably radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who called it an "assault on traditional American values.
Meanwhile, CBS suddenly has a 12:35 problem. Craig Ferguson will almost certainly leave "Late Late Show," which means CBS's work is far from over.
“Stephen is a multi-talented and respected host, writer, producer, satirist and comedian who blazes a trail of thought-provoking conversation, humor and innovation with everything he touches,” said CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler. ”He is a presence on every stage, with interests and notable accomplishments across a wide spectrum of entertainment, politics, publishing and music. We welcome Stephen to CBS with great pride and excitement, and look forward to introducing him to our network television viewers in late night.”"Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," said CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves in a statement. "David Letterman's legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today's announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night."A Comedy Central spokesman said Colbert had no plans to address his new job on the air Thursday night. Meanwhile, "Late Show" was not taped Thursday.
The culture wars bled into the late night wars the other evening when Bill O'Reilly went after Stephen Colbert -- calling him a "deceiver" who has damaged the country. Yes, this news was everywhere Wednesday -- and sorry about getting to it so late -- but better late than never, and it's not going away, so . . .
This broadside arrived on the Talking Points segment on Tuesday's "Factor" --...Read more »
I, your host of TV Zone, am tired to the point of catatonia of hearing the question asked repeatedly of one Stephen Colbert: But can he break character to host CBS' "Late Show" when David Letterman retires next year?
I've heard this question everywhere -- maybe even in my own head when I first wrote over a month ago that Colbert was CBS' first choice to replace Dave. I heard it during a radio interview I did last week, and was even asked by a very smart host; I heard or read it in pieces in various places, or sundry "listicles," that cited Colbert as a leading candidate.
The whole subtext is simple: "Oh surely Colbert could never break character . . . he is who he is because he is who he is, and the tautology cannot be broken because . . . well, dammit, because it just can't."
That's essentially the entire argument, and it's as dumb, or circular, as it looks.
Fact is, if Colbert were to replace the second greatest or the greatest late-night talk-show in this business' history, he would push this franchise into another realm where late-night TV seldom dares venture, on the assumption that viewers are "tired" or "idiots" or "really do care about what James Franco had for breakfast that morning."
Colbert shares a characteristic with Letterman -- both are deeply serious guys who treat comedy not as a series of one-liners but as part of an entire ecosystem where the bad should be punished, the corrupt called out, the inept brought to witness.
Letterman only intermittently applies his sense of outraged injustice; Colbert lives it night after night, he breathes it, or I suppose I should say he fire-breathes it.
That's right -- he's one of the "Game of Thrones" dragons; I forget which one.
This is where the "can he step out of character" business comes from. His alter-ego is a device that can be used as a battering ram -- a trick that can devastate any target in part because he is playing the blowhard who is the target.
In that regard, the question is a valid one: "The Colbert Report" has been a remarkably successful show because the host has been so consistent.
But Can He Step Out of Character?
He can be silly, absurd, and (umm) unserious.
He can do monologues -- standard or unstandard, take your pick; sketch comedy (that, too).
He can do everything you want your late-night host to do -- in part because he's already done it -- but he will also bring that added measure of social/political insight and commentary that exists nowhere on the broadcast networks at the moment.
If you watch the clips below, you will see someone who has the instincts of a journalist, and who knows exactly where the carotid artery is located. (I long ago believed he should have won some sort of special Pulitzer for his work on Super PACs . . . but he got an Emmy instead.)
As mentioned, he's serious but he is also human, accessible. The Real Colbert never seems pompous or full of himself, but he strikes me as an eye-level kind of guy: In other words, someone who knows how to talk to people, and not talk at them.
His "Late Show" would be excellent.
Now, will this happen or are there other good candidates out there? It is in no way a foregone conclusion, but as I have noted earlier, CBS is seriously considering him (that much I do know).
There are also other extremely qualified candidates out there, including one in-house, Craig Ferguson.
It's also far too early to be handicapping this race. But the whole point of this post is to debunk once and for all the tired know-nothing canard that Colbert "can't possibly step out of character."
I suspect this post will not debunk it, but at least I tried.
To the clips!
We know David Letterman is irreplaceable. But who will replace David Letterman?
There are many names, few truly qualified. Which means you must immediately rule out the superficially appealing names because they will never happen.
These include people like Jerry Seinfeld or Neil Patrick Harris or someone I'm not thinking of at the moment (Pee Wee Herman, Bruce Jenner . . .) They have never hosted a late-night talk show, and I am mindful of many stories of late night past: Stars like Billy Crystal (who had the sense not to do one for Fox) and Chevy Chase (who did not have the sense to do a show for Fox) believing that this gig must be a cinch.
("Hey, you show up, tell a few jokes, talk to some guest, then say goodnight . .. ")
This is the hardest job in show business, by far. It's every day, weekends off. It's grueling work where you manage huge staffs, spar with networks -- the worst part of the job -- and then stand out there every night and try to be funny. It's lucrative, but I can't imagine Jay Leno or Letterman did this for the money, which was ridiculously good, as they would be the first to admit.
So who does this leave?
To a list.
Stephen Colbert: Front-runner, without question. His contract at Comedy Central ends this year, CBS is interested (I have heard this from a senior industry executive) and he is very good and very funny. Questions, no doubt, about whether he will "break character." Should be a cinch. Plus, he's an excellent interviewer.
Jay Leno: Jay's name has to come up here. He's one of the most successful late-night talk show hosts in history, and he's unemployed. Why shouldn't it come up? One possible reason: His "Tonight" attracted an "old" audience (pushing 60, on average, which is old, I guess.) TV covets youth.
Chelsea Handler: The dark horse candidate and the long-shot candidate. She's leaving E!, she's funny, she has a following, and she knows how to do late-night TV. Drawback: She's a she. Late-night TV hosts are usually men. Don't blame me -- I don't make up the rules. Plus, she's leaving E!. I mean really . . . "Former E! host replaces Letterman." Rather sad headline, wouldn't you say?
Jon Stewart: Of course everyone wants Jon Stewart -- but could some watered-down approximation of "The Daily Show" work at "Late Show?" Hard to believe, possibly harder to stomach. Stewart is -- I don't use this word lightly -- a genius at what he does. He would be miserable to the point of throwing-himself-in-front-of-oncoming traffic to chat with the latest star selling the latest lousy movie. But who knows what's going to happen? He's certainly smart enough to figure out some sort of inventive way to reshape "Late Show." I still say: Long shot.
Craig Ferguson: The in-house star and a long-shot. Ferguson is excellent, funny, inventive, interesting, and has a terrific animatronic sidekick in Geoff. But "Late Late Show" always lost to Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night." How would a Ferguson "Late Show" then do opposite Fallon's "Tonight?" (Again, I don't make up the rules.)
"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" turned one month old Monday, which means party time!
But hold on. Let's settle down. The party must wait. First, some facts and analysis and critical perspective and quotes. Late night television has changed forever. Has it changed for the better?
To the questions:
So, how is "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" doing?
If the words "spectacularly well" offer a clue, then you have your answer. This launch has exceeded even NBC's expectations, and mine -- an aside offered by someone who has lived through both (and also covered) the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "Tonight" successions...umm, all three of them.
If numbers tell part of the story -- they almost always do -- then let's get straight to those. Last week, "Tonight" was seen by an average 4.5 million viewers at the regular 11:35 p.m. time, compared to 4.9 million in Jay Leno's last full week on the air.
That was a high-water mark for Leno -- expected for his swan song week. One of the more relevant figures is "Tonight's" performance among viewers 18 to 34 -- Fallon has around a 1 rating, or 700,000 viewers in that age group last week, compared to a 0.7 or 500,000 for Jay in his final, heavily viewed week.
Then, finally, this number: "Tonight" has just less than double the total audience of second-place "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show with David Letterman" -- both at about 2.7 million last week.
Thanks for the math, but what does it mean?
One month in, the math appears to have resolved the single greatest concern that NBC had going in: Would "Tonight/Leno" viewers sample "Tonight/Fallon," then return for more? So far, the answer is yes and yes.
NBC is completing research to determine how many Leno loyalists have remained, but the preliminary read at the network is that many have -- possibly even most of those who refuse to break their habit and have so far found no reason to do so.
This is a key metric because the bottom fell out from under Conan O'Brien's "Tonight" fairly quickly after his June 1, 2009, launch. Yes, this is something an apples-to-carrots comparison. "Conan" launched midsummer five years ago, and "Fallon" had a tail wind (the Winter Olympics).
Nevertheless, this is March -- a huge month for "homes using television" -- and Fallon's figures are holding up.
What is the age of Fallon's viewers?
The average age is 54, or five years younger than Leno's viewers, and "Late Show's," which is now the oldest audience in late-night TV. It's also a year younger than Kimmel's average.
Just to restate the obvious, youth rules in late night, or at least rules with advertisers -- a key reason Fallon is now host of "Tonight.' But the relative youth of Fallon's crowd indicates that his "Tonight" has actually added new viewers to the mix. Leno's "Tonight" was doing the exact opposite -- losing them.
What does NBC think?
Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman, said in a recent interview, "I have an odd relationship with A.C. Nielsen, and deep in my heart get superstitious [when predicting ratings]. I thought we could run the table with both Jimmy and Seth [Meyers, whose 'Late Night' is also doing very well], but we didn't think it would be this high.
"My read is that we kept who we had and added more [audience], which is hard to do in any day part. That's what makes this so fascinating. It seems too early after a month to make any big general statements, but this could be one of those rare game changers where people have caught on to this guy."
Harbert -- a TV veteran and former chief of ABC Entertainment during its glory days -- says credit is due, beyond Fallon and his team, to "Lorne [Michaels], who has set this network up to be flush in late night talent."
What does the Newsday critic think?
Fallon's "Tonight" is excellent -- superior to Leno's "Tonight" (sorry, Jay, but true). Most of all, the new "Tonight" is refreshing, comfortable and often surprising, which are words seldom heard about late-night TV anymore.
This also feels like a show that knows itself -- knows what it wants to say, and how to say it, or at least how to perform it. Almost all key elements click -- the monologue especially, as well as the many sketches that made the hop from 12:35 to 11:35 with Fallon.
What's unexpected is that this really does appear to be the exact same show as Fallon's "Late Night," right down to the curtain (actually, "Late Night's" curtain was a solid blue. Fallon's "Tonight" is two-tone. Plus, that skyline). NBC and Fallon promised the same show, but how many times are promises kept in this business?
Harbert puts it this way: "The mistake we made at this network is that a lot of time was spent telling Conan how his show should change, but [this time we] said, 'You're not going to have the network telling you what to do and screw it up. Just keep doing what you're doing."
Differences, in fact, are subtle but significant: More host cross-chat with Steve Higgins, most of it improvised and most of it funny; more sketch tie-ins with members of The Roots, like James Poyser or Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, AKA Black Thought; and more monologue (but not that much more; Fallon's monologues still appear to run only around seven or eight minutes at most -- a good length for him.)
The guest segments are the weakest element, to date. Fallon's instincts are to perform, not to interrogate, so these can sometimes feel like free-form chats that lead nowhere fast. He tends to be a "fan" of everyone, has his TiVo filled with "all of their shows" or his iPod with "all of their songs."
Jimmy's a nice guy -- we know that -- but he needs to develop a critical distance and perspective. Even a coolness. That's not a bad thing when you are the host of "The Tonight Show" and therefore arbiter, or at least gatekeeper, of pop culture tastes and trends.
Has the late-night landscape changed with the advent of Fallon?
Perhaps the better way to approach this question is with another question: What about Dave?
Letterman turns 66 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.
The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.
Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago: "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”
No one wants to see Letterman go.
I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be.
That said ... reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday.
For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them. Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes.
A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history.
Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year. There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one?
By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43.
My kicker: Stephen Colbert could well be the next host of "Late Show."
And of course, this: We'll see.
So maybe you've had a chance to see the new “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.“ Well...what did you think? Share thoughts if you like, but in the meantime here are some of mine — in no particular order, and because Tuesday's print story was not exactly a review, per se, allow me to use this space to offer a brief critical perspective. And away we go.
* U2 and the 70th floor: Let's begin with the breakout star of the first edition — U2's reasonably mind-blowing performance of "Invisible" without an apparent safety net — only air separating one of the world's most famous bands and concrete 872-feet below. This is a famous piece of real estate within a famous piece of real estate — that famous Depression-era photo, "Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper" was shot here back in the early '30s when the building was nearing completion: Workers sitting on a steel beam high above the streets, eating lunch without helmets. Hard to say whether this confined space has even been used to such spectacular effect since, but Monday night ranks as one of the standout moments for certain, It occurred to me, maybe you, that this could be used again for the same purpose, but the risks seem considerable enough to suggest that this will be one of those one-time-only events...
* The reborn Studio 6B which Fallon vacated last year for this rebirth appeared much larger than the old "Late Night" space, but that may be one of those Trompe-l'œil's TV excels at: Shot from above, it appears vast, but the clues as to real size appeared at the end of the show when Jimmy was scaling the stairs. Maybe not so huge — in fact, only 50 new seats were added. NBC initially was of a mind to blow out a floor (probably up to the 7th) to really make the space huge, but cost (many millions, conservatively, and many millions more realistically) became prohibitive and Fallon didn't really want the larger space. He's said in interviews that he doesn't particularly like playing to balconies. What the designers did apparently do was blow out the floor space in front of a new proscenium instead — which gives the illusion of expanse — and added that gilded bandstand for the Roots. All in all the studio redesign appears to be a real winner for the show.
* Model of the New York skyline behind the host's desk? Sure you've seen that before, or something similar — "Late Show with David Letterman" in the early days had a skyline model behind Dave's desk, complete with a little working toy subway train (the butt of many good jokes...) The backdrop on Dave's set is still very New York-dramatic (a bridge span seen through a pair of big windows behind the host's desk and gives the impression of 3-D, but the old model of the toy city is gone.)
* The monologue was just seconds shy of 12 minutes — actually a combination of introductory comments, followed by jokes — and that's the length to expect going forward. But of note, you may have noticed this wasn't a pound-out-the-jokes style of monologue but one embedded with prepared bits — pictures of Olympics stars, for example, and their "most likely to become" predictions from high school, etc. Expect this to be standard operating procedure going forward — fewer jokes, more embedded sketch material, playing off the day's news. Fallon's not Leno — an industrial strength joke machine, and 12 minutes of joke after joke (after joke) would be a killing pace for someone like him, nor one that would play to his strengths anyway. This seems like a smart solution.
* Will Smith — Why the first interview? Why not! He's got deep ties, no doubt, to Universal and if he doesn't have a movie to sell today, he will tomorrow. He and Fallon do have a good rapport, and Smith seems to genuinely like the new host. This interview did point up one of Fallon's weaknesses however — a tendency to be obsequious, to be incurious... The Fallon interview as a matter of course tends to be light on information, heavy on banter. His questions are barely questions — more like prompts. In this regard, he is a massive departure from Johnny Carson — a superb interviewer, and even Jimmy Kimmel, an excellent one as well. Kimmel in fact has a journalist's eye and ear — he probes, and asks follow-ups, and if not fearless usually doesn't shy from asking hard questions. That's not Fallon — not remotely — but now that he's in the big seat, a degree of inquisitiveness is essential. After all, he's also competing with Jon Stewart — who is one of TV's best interviewers, comedy or news.
* Yeah, that was Lindsay Lohan you saw last night — along with a few dozen other camera-shy celebrities. That $100 bet sketch was a standout of the night — not quite a U2 score, but close enough. It maybe went on too long if anything before the perfect Colbert kicker arrived. But this points out one obvious thing here — Fallon is not working without a net. He has an excellent stable of writers back there behind the big blue curtain; his EP, Josh Leib, worked with Jon Stewart
Bottom line: Good strong start for Jimmy Fallon. Just about everything worked, and worked well, from the opening credits to the final ones. The energy and beauty of New York City was incorporated in a way that exceeded even my expectations — happily exceeded them. Meanwhile, The host: A bit nervous, understandably, he nonetheless reminded fans and people who have never heard of him why he's here. A talented performer who disarms his guests, he is a pure distillation of human likability and charm. Yeah, he needs to work on the interviews, and yeah — you, or at least I — would like just the slightest degree of comic-effect acerbity: That Jack Benny double-take to the camera, or that David Letterman hard edge, or that Jimmy Kimmel bite, or that Jon Stewart refusal to suffer any fool gladly... But Fallon is Fallon. If he goes with his strengths, which are considerable, he should do fine.
Super Bowl XLVIII is about to land on your doorstep with a loud and ferocious whump, but days before this happens, there will be many small and intriguing whumpettes: Brief ad snippets or teases that promise something of great and enduring interest if you just pay attention to that $4 million in-game ad that is being teased...
It's the trend du jour of 2014 - the ad for the ad...
There are teases everywhere, or at least "everywhere" as defined by YouTube. Certainly not every major marketer has one out there, but many do, like Wonderful Pistachios and M&Ms, to mention just two. (Check back here and I'll post more.)
It's not a new idea, heaven knows, but rather an old idea with fresh legs: A couple of years ago, advertisers figured that they could get some social media mileage out of their in-game spot by pre-releasing it. Good idea in principal, except that when people saw the ad (or worse, a shortened version of the pre-released ad), they ran to fridge. Why sit through the thing again?! Hence, there was believed to be a certain degree of cannibalization that took place with the pre-release.
But the tease theoretically solves that...If you can tease something, you are not giving away the store, and maybe even promising something that would forestall that trip to the fridge.
Here's a good ABC News reel on the trend. And meanwhile, keep this in mind - the "tease" is but one trick up the marketers' collective sleeve; there are others, and we'll get to those later.
To the tease!