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Colbert and the Talk Show Games

by Ethan Tussey

by Ethan Thompson for IN MEDIA RES

This clip says much about the ranks of network late night “talk shows” that Stephen Colbert will soon join. Bob Odenkirk doesn’t want to play a silly game with Jimmy Kimmel. “Can’t we just talk?” he says, before calling his publicist to complain. Kimmel might be taking a shot at Jimmy Fallon’s tendency to spend so much time in lip sync contests etc. with his celebrity guests, but Kimmel has also based a lot of his show on crowd-sourced segments like parents telling their kids they ate their Halloween candy and so on. Letterman, too, was known for stupid pet tricks and an endless variety of segments and I’m not sure were that far removed from “Heatherball.” But it does seems to me that Colbert is our best hope for engaging talk in late night, which we are missing more of with Jon Stewart out of the game. (John Oliver certainly says a lot, but it’s a monologue!) One of the great things about Letterman was that every now and then his disdain for a guest was right on the surface. I don’t expect Colbert to be like that. His persona on the Colbert Report allowed him to feign enthusiasm for/against guests and positions on social issues. I wonder if he will adopt something similar, or if we will just believe that he isn’t really fawning over whatever pop/movie/tv star is on the show, just like we knew he didn’t really believe those things he was saying on the Colbert Report. Oliver’s rage is loudly articulated, and that is a major part of the fun. For Colbert, the pleasure used to be much more in the game…parsing out what he really thought and how that might emerge in conversation, almost like unveiling a trap that we knew the conversation really was all along. So while it will no doubt be fun to see the top-dollar stars the first week or two of the new Colbert show, I’m looking forward to a few more weeks down the road, when the proportion of run-of-the-mill CBS people notches higher. What sort of “talking game” will he play with them? More Letterman, or more Fallon?

Colbert and Late Night

A clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live

from Jimmy Kimmel Live (2015)
Creator: Jimmy Kimmel
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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