Late night television has seen something of a resurgence over the last few years. The old guard of Leno, Letterman, and even Craig Ferguson have long since exited, paving the way for the next generation of talk-show hosts. We’ve seen the rise of talents like Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Fallon, changing the face of one of television’s most storied institutions. With these hosts has come a refreshing break from the norm: All five have infused life into their respective shows, making each an eminently watchable experience for a generation of viewers that grew up less on Johnny Carson and more on the Internet.
This group will see yet another addition to their ranks tonight, when Stephen Colbert makes his late night debut, which could very well lead to yet another facelift for late night television. The trending style now has been a direct reaction to the aging format of the Letterman/Leno era, that saw younger viewers tuning out and ratings drop. Hosts like Conan, Kimmel, and Fallon brought a certain video virality to their shows, with clips of theirs shared across the outer reaches of the Internet. Directed more at a decidedly more youthful demographic, late night TV saw a resurgence. Colbert though could very well bring things back full circle in a brand new way.
1. Colbert represents a true celebrity in the chair at The Late Show
Both David Letterman and Jay Leno gained fame from their roles as talk show hosts. While Fallon, Kimmel, and Conan were all known commodities before their shows debuted, their crowning achievements to this day have still been attached to each of their own programs. Colbert though has a lengthy and storied resumé behind him leading into The Late Show. Already, he’s won a Peabody, along with multiple Emmys and Grammys, all for his impressive work on The Colbert Report.
His Late Show debut will feature a host who’s already a fully-minted A-list celebrity, and one who’s already been responsible for enacting massive social change. “The Colbert Bump” became a regularity on the show, where politicians, books, and other various causes would see a rise in popularity immediately following appearances. His influence is undeniable, and you can bet that’ll carry over when he finally assumes his role on late night TV.
2. It’s the next logical step in Stephen Colbert’s career
As entertaining and hilarious as The Colbert Report was, someone with his ability and political acumen shouldn’t be trapped by his own shtick forever. He accomplished a lot as a fake conservative pundit on Comedy Central. Now imagine what he can do on network television, with an audience from both sides of the political spectrum tuning in. The potential is massive once Colbert is no longer limited by a character he’s playing, and instead put forth his own thoughts, opinions, and style. A new format serves the career arc of him well, giving him a whole new playground to grow and influence.
3. We’ll get to truly utilize his insight and talent
Moving over to network TV isn’t just good for Colbert’s career; it’s a huge benefit to entertainment as well. Without the self-imposed limitations of The Colbert Report, he can tackle hot button sociopolitical issues head on, rather than skirting around them ironically as a caricature of a Fox News host. The real Stephen Colbert will be unleashed upon the world, and we’ll all be better off for it. Looking at what John Oliver has been able to accomplish on Last Week Tonight is a fantastic barometer for the potential of The Late Show, and bodes well for what’s in store for the future of the format.
4. The lighter tone of modern late night will once again get a reset
Many attribute the tectonic shift in late night TV to Conan O’Brien, and his work on TBS following his unceremonious exit from NBC. Since then, the variety show has made a comeback, punctuated by Jimmy Fallon’s lively and oftentimes hilarious Tonight Show. While Colbert’s Late Show promises to produce some semblance of laughs, in other ways it’ll be decidedly insightful and serious. He can now ask his guests real questions outside of the typically banal ones we usually hear from celebrities on late night, himself stating, “I’m very interested in my guests, and I’m looking forward to being able to be sincerely interested in what they have to say without regard to having to translate it through an idiot’s mouth.”
With the new generation of late night talk show hosts now solidified, it could be awhile before another massive shift in tone occurs, but if and when it does, there’s a good chance it’ll be Colbert leading the charge. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert premieres on September 8 on CBS with guests George Clooney and Jeb Bush, and with a musical performance by Jon Batiste and Stay Human.
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