Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’ nightly chatfest The Late Show, began his latest “Wheel Of News” segment last week with this apt pronouncement: “There are so many decisions to make on a show like this.” Up until very recently, according to an article by Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times, Colbert was making too many of those decisions himself. Rutenberg writes that the host insisted on “personally orchestrating details big and small—lighting, script approval, budgets.” Now, however, CBS chairman Les Moonves has convinced Colbert to let newly hired showrunner Chris Licht, a veteran of CBS This Morning, handle that kind of thing so he can simply focus on being funny. Eight months into its run, Colbert’s Late Show is consistently running second to NBC’s The Tonight Show in the overall ratings, but ABC’s third-place Jimmy Kimmel Live! is scoring more of those coveted younger viewers than Colbert. More troubling, says Rutenberg, there is a “growing consensus that things just aren’t clicking.” In the middle of an election season ripe for satire, The Late Show has not emerged as a comedic powerhouse. Colbert’s new show is still operating in the shadow of his old one, Comedy Central’s much-missed The Colbert Report.
With Licht on board to handle the show’s day-to-day hassles, Colbert can now “concentrate on being himself.” But that, too, is a potential problem, Rutenberg writes. The comedian became a television sensation by portraying the character of a right-wing blowhard who used his show as a bully pulpit. Now, he is tasked with proving that he can carry a nightly show as himself. “The great irony,” Rutenberg says, “is that Mr. Colbert is still learning how to be himself on television after nine years of pretending to be someone else.” For now, Moonves and CBS are behind him all the way. After all, they have too much corporate pride and money tied up in The Late Show to give up on it now.