On Sunday night, Stephen Colbert became the first host in the history of late-night TV to do a show immediately after the Super Bowl. That he and his team fumbled the gig should come as little surprise.
The post-Super Bowl slot has been a mixed blessing of late. Ratings for whatever show follows the nation’s most-watched television event of each year inevitably spike on that Sunday night, but the bump for subsequent episodes is far less substantial, even non-existent. Creatively speaking, most Super Bowl episodes are burdened with such high expectations from audiences and network executives that they’re more concerned with being big and loud than being good. By the end of an exhausting Super Bowl game and halftime show, the last thing most people want to do is keep their brain turned on for one to two more hours of programming, even if they keep their televisions on in an act of sheer inertia.
On top of all those built-in obstacles, Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show is uniquely unsuited to the task of following up the most expensive, expansive spectacle in American pop culture. Continue reading
Midway through the first episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the host did a bit in which he both satirized the media’s obsessive coverage of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and admitted that he’s powerless to avoid doing his own obsessive coverage. Colbert promised his audience he would only eat one Oreo, symbolizing one Trump joke. But the Oreos were so enticing, and the pleasure from ingesting them so rewarding, that he couldn’t help but indulge in one, then another, then half the box at once, and then a second box.
This bit was superficially about Trump, but it’s also a symbol of what Colbert’s trying to do, and what he’ll have to do, with this new show. For nine years on Comedy Central, Colbert cultivated an unprecedented strain of politically-infused comedy so draining that he’s told multiple interviewers that he had planned to leave the show even if CBS hadn’t come calling. But replacing David Letterman, in timeslot if not in substance, is an opportunity for Colbert to flex different muscles and achieve a childhood dream.
David Letterman signed off without a tear in his eye or a break in his voice. The final hour-and-change looked back fondly on some of the silliest highlights of Letterman’s television career and ignored most of the darkness that sometimes pervaded the legendary host’s broadcasts.
It was exactly right.
Listen to this week’s M&M Report here.
This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I discussed David Letterman’s retirement announcement, our mixed feelings about the modern obsession with superhero movies and our opposing perspectives on Matt Zoller Seitz’s recently published manifesto “Please, Critics, Write About the Filmmaking.”
David Letterman and late-night — 0:57 – 19:00
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (completely spoiler-free) — 19:50 – 26:15
Debating Matt Zoller Seitz’s film/TV criticism piece — 26:20 – end
On Monday night at 11:35pm on NBC, Jimmy Fallon will reverse the long-held truism that you have to sell out to get ahead.
Five years ago, Jimmy Fallon took over for Conan O’Brien as host of Late Night. O’Brien went on to host The Tonight Show for nine months, until a complicated and unfortunate series of circumstances forced him to abandon his post, collect a tidy sum of money and hightail it to TBS, where his show has hummed along at a consistently acceptable ratings pace.
Meanwhile, Fallon kept his mouth shut. He claimed he was just happy to be where he was. He did what Leno never did – he messed around. He showcased his musical talents and invited his celebrity guests to share in his passion for silliness. He experimented with big-budget parodies of popular TV shows. He cracked an egg on Tom Cruise’s head. He rapped the hits with Justin Timberlake once, then twice, then twice more. He slow-jammed the news with Brian Williams, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. He incorporated social media more deftly than any late-night host before or since. And he had a lot of fun.