The Uncertain Future of Stephen Colbert, the “Superman” Who Bleeds

 

Things are not going well.Drudge teased this headline all day as “developing” then finally gave us a link to the New York Times: “CBS rebooting ‘LATE SHOW’ with Colbert…

It’s a show that certainly needs a “reboot,” since “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” has been a ratings failure — unwatchable to at least half the country. Why? Because Colbert is just another in long line of preachy lefty “political entertainers” who sacrifice humor for message.

Here’s something the lefty Hollywood elite just doesn’t get: Right-leaning people do enjoy your content — even though you insult the non-lefty half most of the time. If people on the right didn’t consume your product, you would not have the millions of dollars you’ve earned to pay for the several homes you inhabit. People on the right have the ability to just let it go … but we do have limits.

I have a running joke with a friend of mine about the music and lyrics of R.E.M. My friend asks: “Why do you love this band? They oppose every political position you hold.” I answer:

“It doesn’t matter. We right-wing folks long ago separated the art from the message. We take what we like, and let the rest go. You lefties could take a lesson. Another thing: Great bands that spout leftist stuff don’t just belong to you lefties. It belongs to all who enjoy it, no matter what they think about politics. Besides I know R.E.M.’s ‘World Leader Pretend’ was meant to apply to Reagan — and it supposedly also applied to W — but it better applies to Obama. And ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ is hilarious in retrospect.”

Those are the kind of fun and respectful conversations I have with my lefty friends. Really. I choose wisely, and my lefty friends know me well.

Anyway, we right-wingers who enjoy pop culture know the messages of bands like R.E.M. were intended to move the thinking of their listeners to the left. Let’s just say it didn’t take in my case. In fact, I find listening to all the lefty Cold War “message” pop and rock even more enjoyable nowadays. The artists were wrong, history proved it so, and it provides a good laugh.

Cold War peace was not achieved through Americans finally understanding, as Sting sang, that “Russians love their children, too.” It was achieved through America’s economic strength in the 1980s, and (to summarize victory in one event) Reagan’s ability to “walk away” from the Reykjavik summit with SDI as non-negotiable.

Of course Russians loved their children, but their political system — and the totalitarians in power — were for a long time willing to sacrifice them to defeat freedom … until they realized they could not beat the capitalism that created SDI and made Sting rich. Every political pop and rock artist who “mattered” opposed Reagan and his policies. But Reagan was right, and the singers were wrong — and that fact actually adds to my enjoyment of their work as I listen to it.

Back to Colbert. The only reason I had any respect for him was because of this Christmas production that actually got it about how most Americans celebrate Christmas. It was a surprise that signaled to me that Colbert was not just a garden-variety lefty comedian/satirist, but someone who had a wide breath of experience in the world, and respect for non-left viewpoints. But … I was wrong.

When Colbert started his show, I couldn’t take more than a dozen or so monologues because — with CBS backing him — he revealed himself as just a garden-variety lefty comedian/artist … who also wasn’t all that funny.

I was actually surprised that Colbert chose, on the big CBS stage, to go hard to the left. There was a great opportunity to be the anti-Letterman — not to be a right-wing Letterman, but to be a more biting and funny Jay Leno, a comedian/host who hits as hard and “hip” on both sides. Colbert had his lefty audience watching at his debut. He had right-wing pop-culture fans watching. If he led with his right, and jabbed a lot hard with his left, and then came back with a few haymakers from the right … it would have been good for everyone. But Colbert didn’t choose that path. He chose to continue Letterman’s increasingly creepy leftism with an increasingly awkward unfunniness.

So when word came in mid-April that “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was bringing on a new show-runner, there was hope (from me, at least) that a new direction would be more even-handed. But … no.

According to the New York Times, the problem with Colbert’s show is that it is not left-wing enough. Les Moonves, head of CBS, “ducked into” a recent taping of Colbert’s show to have a conversation over vodka with the host and its new show-runner and executive producer:

There Mr. Moonves, Mr. Colbert and the show’s new executive producer and showrunner, Chris Licht, broke out a bottle of vodka and toasted their new mission: to get the “Late Show” on track after an uneven first eight months.

It was the first time the three had met since Mr. Moonves persuaded Mr. Colbert to have Mr. Licht join the show two weeks earlier, arguing that Mr. Colbert’s insistence on personally orchestrating details big and small — lighting, script approval, budgets — was diverting his focus from his own performance and that he needed the help.

Well, that reveals a lot. Colbert was micro-managing the show the way Jimmy Carter micro-managed the tennis court schedules at the White House. Nothing good can come from that. And it didn’t.

Media-hound Moonves was a main source of this story, so we continue …

Mr. Moonves says that his visit was a social call on a fledgling show in which he has great faith. “We each had a drink and it was nice,” he told me. “Just three guys.”

But, of course, it was more than that. It was about whether they could pull off one of the most intriguing experiments in late-night television history; whether Mr. Colbert, who became a leading voice in American political satire by playing a fictional character on his Comedy Central show — holding forth before a cable congregation of the converted — could succeed as himself in the big broad tent of network television, whose commercial and corporate imperatives can be homogenizing.

Obviously, that was not going well. Colbert’s “self” was not the same as his cable-buzz shtick, and it was not “homogenizing.” As the NYT story explains, there was a lot riding on “The Late Show”: Moonves’ reputation; Colbert’s reputation for “grace and wicked intelligence,” which was expected to “inject something politically powerful” into the culture; hundreds of millions of CBS dollars. So time for more vodka.

CBS expected Colbert to bring the buzz that they imagined had the kind of “purchase” of the liberal media saint Jon Stewart did on cable. Because, as the NYT says:

[Colbert] shared that reputation with his friend Jon Stewart, who left Comedy Central’s 11 p.m. “Daily Show” several months after Mr. Colbert left his 11:30 p.m. program, “The Colbert Report.” In their absence there has been a “Where is Superman?” aspect to this year’s presidential campaign, especially in Left America, Centrist-Left America and, yes, Media America.

“Where is Superman?” Where is the hip, liberal pop-cultural champion who would promote the message on a “real” network? That is the question, and the answer is why Colbert, CBS and his show is in crisis.

Moonves and the rest of the CBS suits had such faith in their cultural dominance that they thought what they enjoyed — leftist comedy on cable — was obviously up-scaleable. So why not let Colbert control everything from the lighting to budgets to script approval. It will be Comedy Central, but done right — influencing the next election on a much larger scale.

But, no. Here’s the flaw in the thinking: They only want their “Superman” to be a host who appeals to “Left America, Centrist-Left America and, yes, Media America.”

That’s the ticket! Eliminate any appeal at all to half the country. Ratings gold.

CBS is learning why Jon Stewart (and Colbert) was a “ratings smash” on cable. They saw it with Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore’s bomb at the White House Correspondence Dinner Saturday. It’s the difference between appealing to a broad audience, and thinking inside the bubble. It leads to failure.

We non-left consumers of pop culture notice when your Superman bleeds.

There are 22 comments.

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  1. TeamAmerica Member
    TeamAmerica
    @TeamAmerica

    Agreed. I had a journalism class in the early nineties taught by a man employed by the uber-liberal Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a moderate liberal, and would tease me in class by saying things like, “Some of you are right-wing Republicans, hi Bob.” However, when I pointed out that his paper’s overwhelmingly lefty slant was blowing off half their customers, he expressed puzzlement as to why.

    Even now, with legacy media on the ropes, there is little attempt to offer balance in their hiring or reporting. I think Dennis Prager is right that people in the media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and most universities have embraced lefty politics as a secular religion. But a religion without an Enlightenment, hence the intolerance and close-mindedness.

    • #1
  2. CuriousJohn Thatcher
    CuriousJohn
    @CuriousJohn

    Have not watched a single episode.   No interest and it the time I’m binge watching something on netflicks or HBO go.

    • #2
  3. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    I had stopped watching Letterman because I couldn’t stand his dourness and leftward tilt.

    I stopped watching Colbert when it became obvious that he would maintain an even more pronounced bias.

    I find it hard to watch Fallon because I don’t like The Roots’ music and I despise what they did to Michele Bachmann (even though I’m no fan of hers).

    I noticed recently that Kimmel let his leftward slant show when he interviewed Ted Cruz.

    It is lamentable indeed that late night hosts no longer follow the model of Carson and Leno.  The ideal is to be an equal opportunity jester and never make apparent your political philosophy.

    Conservatives don’t mind being made fun of half the time.  But what group of people in their right minds would want to tune in to a program that ridicules them 100% of the time?

    • #3
  4. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    This is a very good analysis, and it reaffirms why I don’t watch late night TV.

    • #4
  5. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Before Ferguson got bored of his show, I was hoping he would succeed Letterman and shake things up.  He could appeal to both sides without being obnoxiously lefty, but the timing was off for it to work with CBS wanting to skew leftward.  I was a big fan of Tom Snyder years ago and was hoping to see someone go back to that format on late night instead of all copying the same formula.  Ferguson dabbled with that one guest discussion format a few times as a tribute to Snyder and did it well, but that style of interview which went beyond promoting the next project and really getting into people’s heads is largely lost to late night network TV.

    • #5
  6. Weeping Inactive
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    CuriousJohn:Have not watched a single episode. No interest and it the time I’m binge watching something on netflicks or HBO go.

    I suspect this has a lot to do with the ratings problem as well. TV/Movie viewing habits are in the process of changing.

    • #6
  7. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    O-ver-ra-ted!

    *clap, clap, clap-clap-clap*

    • #7
  8. SteveSc Member
    SteveSc
    @SteveSc

    TBH, the only time I ever watched Colbert was when he went to Iraq and did a week there.  It was genuinely moving.  Except for when he brought on the Muslim army personnel that said it has been open season on muslims since 911.

    • #8
  9. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I watched Letterman religiously from 1982 until about 2004 or so, then I just couldn’t stand anymore.

    I’ve only seen Colbert once or twice (on the Colbert Report, not the late  show), and I just couldn’t take the smarminess of it all.  The really ridiculous thing about it was that the joke ran thin even while Bush was still in office.   That he kept it going through 3/4ths of the Obama administration is unbelievable.  There might have been a real opportunity for him to turn the joke around and do a reverse take on the Left, but I guess that wouldn’t have advanced the proper political narrative.

    • #9
  10. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    CuriousJohn:Have not watched a single episode. No interest and it the time I’m binge watching something on netflicks or HBO go.

    One of the best things I ever did was just ignoring TV for the most part. Occasionally, I try something out on cable (well, on the web, usually), but the moment I get a hint of some overarching leftist agenda, poof, I’m gone. For a good 7 years or so I didn’t watch a first run show at all. The only fiction I’m watching right now is Fear the Walking Dead on the Internet. If I even get a whiff of “Bush’s fault” or “…those nosy Christians” or hipster atheism snark, it’s over with me.

    I don’t go to theaters anymore. I rarely watch TV. And I check the background on any book I’m thinking of buying. Hitting these people in the wallets is the only way to do it. The ones that hate you shouldn’t get your money or your time.  I hope Colbert and everyone like him go down in flames.

    • #10
  11. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    TeamAmerica:Agreed. I had a journalism class in the early nineties taught by a man employed by the uber-liberal Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a moderate liberal, and would tease me in class by saying things like, “Some of you are right-wing Republicans, hi Bob.” However, when I pointed out that his paper’s overwhelmingly lefty slant was blowing off half their customers, he expressed puzzlement as to why.

    It’s the Pauline Kael thing. They simply cannot comprehend why everyone else isn’t like them, and so, those that aren’t must be wrong. Just wrong people, just twisted and bad. If you’re not One With The Body, then you should be drummed out of society.

    • #11
  12. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Jim Lakely:I was actually surprised that Colbert chose, on the big CBS stage, to go hard to the left. There was a great opportunity to be the anti-Letterman — not to be a right-wing Letterman, but to be a more biting and funny Jay Leno, a comedian/host who hits as hard and “hip” on both sides.

    Come on.  You weren’t that surprised were you?

    The Left hated Leno because he would play both sides.  Playing both sides is unfair.  Besides comedians considered Leno the worst for taking a prime time show when Conan took over, not having many comedians on the show, and having bad blood from the Helen Kushnick intimidation era.

    I think Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel run circles around Colbert.  From the very little, I seen…

    1.  Fallon seems to have the ability to act a little apolitical as he does not seem interested in politics.  However, he and his band did get in trouble for playing guest Michele Bachmann onto the song “Lyin’ Ass B****”, so that could easily happen again.
    2. Jimmy Kimmel seems to have a very unusual political background for someone in Hollywood.  He two one-time partners are rather conservatives.  Ben Stein writes for the American Spectator, and Adam Carolla actually endorsed Ted Cruz back in April 2015!  However, Kimmel was also in a relationship with noted comedian and Republican-hater Sarah Silverman from 2002 until 2009, so I don’t know what he believes.
    • #12
  13. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Colbert stopped being funny when his doppelganger started a successful run for the presidential nomination.

    • #13
  14. DJ EJ Member
    DJ EJ
    @DJEJ

    I never watched the Colbert Report or the Daily Show (not since Craig Kilborn and those moments of Zen), partly because of getting into arguments with lefty acquaintances trying to convince them that the shows were satire, and not reliable sources of accurate news. I had to bite my tongue when another acquaintance, upon learning of the immanent departure of Jon Stewart, somberly reminisced about some Daily Show episode where Stewart demonstrated how serious he was and how much he really cared about some issue. The number of times I’ve seen links posted on Facebook to John Oliver destroying (insert bad guy or misconception of the week here), makes me never want to watch that show either.

    The biggest “tell” for Colbert’s lefty slant on the Late Show is that promo photo at the top of this Ricochet post. He’s still making that smarmy, news anchor face from his Comedy Central show character, i.e. I take myself too seriously. Where’s the goofy smile that says “this show is fun”?

    I watch Conan, but only what I want and when I want. On YouTube and on his TeamCoco website, the show is divided up into interview excerpts, skits, etc. I watch what I’m interested in and skip the rest. I refused to watch Conan’s Cuba special, and was heartened by the high amount of criticism he got when promoting it. Except for the monologue, he mostly sticks to apolitical humor.

    • #14
  15. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    The Cloaked Gaijin:

    Jim Lakely:I was actually surprised that Colbert chose, on the big CBS stage, to go hard to the left. There was a great opportunity to be the anti-Letterman — not to be a right-wing Letterman, but to be a more biting and funny Jay Leno, a comedian/host who hits as hard and “hip” on both sides.

    Come on. You weren’t that surprised were you?

    The Left hated Leno because he would play both sides. Playing both sides is unfair. Besides comedians considered Leno the worst for taking a prime time show when Conan took over, not having many comedians on the show, and having bad blood from the Helen Kushnick intimidation era.

    1. Jimmy Kimmel seems to have a very unusual political background for someone in Hollywood. He two one-time partners are rather conservatives. Ben Stein writes for the American Spectator, and Adam Carolla actually endorsed Ted Cruz back in April 2015!

    I’m pretty sure Carolla didn’t endorse Ted Cruz.  He’s had him on as a guest and he took some flak for it.  Carolla would probably endorse him if he vowed to rid the world of passion fruit ice tea and therapy dogs on a plane.

    • #15
  16. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    thelonious:

    The Cloaked Gaijin:

    Jim Lakely:I was actually surprised that Colbert chose, on the big CBS stage, to go hard to the left. There was a great opportunity to be the anti-Letterman — not to be a right-wing Letterman, but to be a more biting and funny Jay Leno, a comedian/host who hits as hard and “hip” on both sides.

    Come on. You weren’t that surprised were you?

    The Left hated Leno because he would play both sides. Playing both sides is unfair. Besides comedians considered Leno the worst for taking a prime time show when Conan took over, not having many comedians on the show, and having bad blood from the Helen Kushnick intimidation era.

    1. Jimmy Kimmel seems to have a very unusual political background for someone in Hollywood. He two one-time partners are rather conservatives. Ben Stein writes for the American Spectator, and Adam Carolla actually endorsed Ted Cruz back in April 2015!

    I’m pretty sure Carolla didn’t endorse Ted Cruz. He’s had him on as a guest and he took some flak for it. Carolla would probably endorse him if he vowed to rid the world of passion fruit ice tea and therapy dogs on a plane.

    Carolla is less conservative than common sense. I suspect that if less politicians and bureaucrats told him how to run his life and business, he’d be happiest, so he tends to look Libertarian until he talks about banning passion fruit tea.

    • #16
  17. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    C. U. Douglas:

    thelonious:

    The Cloaked Gaijin:

    Jim Lakely:I was actually surprised that Colbert chose, on the big CBS stage, to go hard to the left. There was a great opportunity to be the anti-Letterman — not to be a right-wing Letterman, but to be a more biting and funny Jay Leno, a comedian/host who hits as hard and “hip” on both sides.

    Come on. You weren’t that surprised were you?

    The Left hated Leno because he would play both sides. Playing both sides is unfair. Besides comedians considered Leno the worst for taking a prime time show when Conan took over, not having many comedians on the show, and having bad blood from the Helen Kushnick intimidation era.

    1. Jimmy Kimmel seems to have a very unusual political background for someone in Hollywood. He two one-time partners are rather conservatives. Ben Stein writes for the American Spectator, and Adam Carolla actually endorsed Ted Cruz back in April 2015!

    I’m pretty sure Carolla didn’t endorse Ted Cruz. He’s had him on as a guest and he took some flak for it. Carolla would probably endorse him if he vowed to rid the world of passion fruit ice tea and therapy dogs on a plane.

    Carolla is less conservative than common sense. I suspect that if less politicians and bureaucrats told him how to run his life and business, he’d be happiest, so he tends to look Libertarian until he talks about banning passion fruit tea.

    Even Libertarians-with-a-capital-L occasionally have to put their foot down and oppose a moral evil.

    • #17
  18. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    I find listening to all the lefty Cold War “message” pop and rock even more enjoyable nowadays. The artists were wrong, history proved it so, and it provides a good laugh.

    My favorite song in the “proven wrong by history” genre is Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”:

    O beautiful, for spacious skies
    But now those skies are threatening
    They’re beating plowshares into swords
    For this tired old man that we elected king
    Armchair warriors often fail
    And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales

    Of course, Reagan avoided a hot war with the USSR, and he won the Cold War.  He wasn’t “tired”, we didn’t elect him “king”, he wasn’t an “armchair warrior”, he didn’t “fail”, and we weren’t “poisoned” by his “fairy tales”.

    Other than that, the song is accurate.  Except for the part about the girl’s hair falling “all around” the narrator even though she has laid her “head back on the ground”.  Perhaps the narrator is a blade of grass?

    I’ve heard the song performed after the Reagan years by the co-composer Bruce Hornsby.  He changed the lyric to “this tired old man who is no longer king”.  Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.  Don and Bruce, you embarrass yourselves if you continue to sing these lyrics.

    Musically, it’s a pretty song, which makes it a shame that it was so topical and overtaken by events.

    • #18
  19. captainpower Member
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    Douglas: It’s the Pauline Kael thing. They simply cannot comprehend why everyone else isn’t like them

    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pauline_Kael#Sourced

    I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.

    • #19
  20. Bob Laing Member
    Bob Laing
    @

    Johnny Dubya:

    I find listening to all the lefty Cold War “message” pop and rock even more enjoyable nowadays. The artists were wrong, history proved it so, and it provides a good laugh.

    My favorite song in the “proven wrong by history” genre is Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”:

    O beautiful, for spacious skies
    But now those skies are threatening
    They’re beating plowshares into swords
    For this tired old man that we elected king
    Armchair warriors often fail
    And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales

    Of course, Reagan avoided a hot war with the USSR, and he won the Cold War. He wasn’t “tired”, we didn’t elect him “king”, he wasn’t an “armchair warrior”, he didn’t “fail”, and we weren’t “poisoned” by his “fairy tales”…

    …I’ve heard the song performed after the Reagan years by the co-composer Bruce Hornsby. He changed the lyric to “this tired old man who is no longer king”. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. Don and Bruce, you embarrass yourselves if you continue to sing these lyrics.

    Musically, it’s a pretty song, which makes it a shame that it was so topical and overtaken by events.

    Mine is “Land of Confusion” by Genesis.  The lyrics are fairly benign, but the video is unapologetically anti-Reagan.

    • #20
  21. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Bob Laing:

    Mine is “Land of Confusion” by Genesis. The lyrics are fairly benign, but the video is unapologetically anti-Reagan.

    This phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  Genesis was a British group.  If I were a member of an American group performing and selling music in Britain – or anywhere else – I can’t imagine having the gall to criticize my host country’s politics or leaders!

    • #21
  22. 701-818 Member
    701-818
    @

    Moonves stopping by for a visit might have been a good thing for those of us who gave the show a shot and realized it was basically his show from CC on a bigger set. I think he understands broadcasting better than his other network executive peers and would be happy if Colbert broadens his appeal and tamps back on the self serious liberal crap. Maybe stopping by and forcing an EP on Colbert is all the message he needs to send.

    • #22

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