Late night talk shows have been a fixture of American television since the era of Kinescopes and the DuMont Network.

It’s news to no one that we live in a vastly different world these days. From the rise of cable television to the proliferation of Internet-connected devices that surround us during practically all of our waking hours, we have access to an unprecedented amount of content to inform us and entertain us.

And yet, tired and weary after a long day, sometimes the most inviting thing is to stretch out on the couch in your dark living room and be illuminated by the nourishing light of the boob tube.

This is what late night television was made for. Over the years a long line of hosts have been invited into Americans’ homes each night. Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Joan Rivers, Conan O’Brien, just to name a few.

Terrestrial broadcasts of these figures’ charm and laughter passed as waves through the air, through walls, even through bodies, before being processed into images and sounds on America’s TV sets.

Of course nowadays few rely exclusively on terrestrial broadcasts to watch CBS (though my mom is one of them), but having that late night slot on network television still holds an element of prestige that, fairly or unfairly, is simply not afforded to cable or online platforms at this time.

So now, after a successful run on Comedy Central with The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert gets his turn to seize that broadcast prestige: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

For the sole purpose of taking advantage of a pun, I have decided to review Colbert’s first Late Show section by section in a style reminiscent of a report card—a Colbert report card.

Cold Open

What better way to start off a late show run than with our national anthem?

This segment immediately made my American bits tingle with patriotism. Colbert may have dropped his conservative pundit persona, but I genuinely believe he has a strong conviction in what it means to be an American citizen. (Past donations to charities such as the Yellow Ribbon Fund exemplify this.) Colbert and others sang the Star-Spangled Banner in a multitude of locations around the country before Jon Stewart as an umpire concluded the song with a hearty, “Play ball!”

Segment Grade: A

Opening Monologue

When Colbert came out on stage a familiar cry erupted from the audience: “Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!”

If you closed your eyes you wouldn’t even know this is a completely new show.

That is until the monologue begins.

This was one of the weaker moments in the program.

Colbert was very goofy and rather awkward with his hair messed up a bit on top. He told a few forgettable jokes before turning the attention to a CBS executive sitting in the audience who supposedly had the power to switch the broadcast over to an episode of The Mentalist if he wasn’t pleased with Colbert’s performance.

The switch was made and a few seconds of footage from The Mentalist were shown, but the execution wasn’t as funny as the concept itself.

Colbert then introduced the house band, Jon Batiste and the Stay Human Band. Batiste didn’t say much, or anything at all actually, and if there is to be any back and forth between him and Colbert, it has yet to be established.

Segment Grade: C

Opening Credits

Opening credits offer an opportunity to showcase a unique style or art direction that helps define a show’s look and feel.

So far Colbert’s Late Show just opens with tilt-shift footage of New York, a song I can’t remember and Colbert himself doing the voiceover announcing.

I don’t see this opening sticking in my head for years to come like Conan’s intro song or Craig Ferguson’s vocals.

Segment Grade: C –

At the Desk

Here is where Colbert appears most at home.

He begins at the desk with a nice homage to David Letterman.

“I am not replacing David Letterman,” Colbert emphasizes, speaking sincerely about how he watched Dave’s Late Night in college.

We then got to see some of the Ed Sullivan Theater renovations, including large wall panel screens where Jimmy Fallon made a brief appearance.

In addition Colbert now has a cursed amulet that forces him to advertise hummus. I could easily see some older viewers being turned off by this bizarre segment. (I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom changed the channel to Fallon). 

Though drawn out, this exchange marked what just might be the most unusual talk show moment on a broadcast network since Craig Ferguson and his gay, robot skeleton Geoff left CBS last December.

After a commercial break Colbert immediately began discussing the 2016 presidential election. Now the show really became practically indistinguishable from The Colbert Report.

Graphics offered visuals for Trump-themed jokes and Colbert even directs “Jimmy” to take one down.

Glad to hear Jimmy wasn’t out of a job after Colbert left Comedy Central.

Colbert used Oreo cookies as a metaphor for Donald Trump.

He doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but he can’t resist, just as he can’t resist eating mouthfuls of Oreos.

Like the hummus bit earlier, this joke drags on too long.

More than five minutes of eating Oreos is excessive.

Segment Grade: B+

Interviews

George Clooney goes down in history as the first guest on Colbert’s Late Show, but he won’t go down as one of the best.

Colbert tried to talk topics more serious than typical late night fare, namely genocide in Darfur, but nothing substantial was really said. Then without much of a segue the topic shifted and the fake action movie clips starring Clooney were mildly funny at best.  

Colbert’s interview with Jeb Bush ran much smoother.

One might expect Colbert to go right into biting satire mode but instead he allowed Bush to speak on why he’s running and how he differs from his brother. Colbert was respectful, unbiased and asked mindful questions.

I believe this sets a good precedent for having more politicians or controversial figures on the show to talk about substantial issues.

Segment Grade: B

Music

The first musical guest on Colbert’s Late Show was the house band.

During their performance Buddy Guy, Ben Folds, Brittany Howard, Derek Trucks, Mavis Staples and Colbert himself joined them.

Colbert again proves himself as an all around showman, not just someone to stand around and make little quips.

Still, Jon Batiste and the Stay Human Band were overshadowed, not just for this performance but also for the entire show.

How much personality these guys really have remains to be seen.

Segment Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

Stephen Colbert’s Late Show has more potential coming from its first episode than many talk shows ever have.

Yet, where The Colbert Report did so well in fitting so much into just a half-hour slot, Colbert’s Late Show has a lot of work to do in fine-tuning its format for its hour-long runtime.

Everybody already knows where Colbert excels; the key to this show’s brilliance will be continuing that while cultivating the grace and magnetism that turn ordinary talk show hosts into legends.

Featured Photo Credit: This screenshot is taken from an episode of The Colbert Report via Flickr user BagoGames.

Matthew Kubisiak is a senior broadcast journalism and film studies major and may be reached at matt.kubisiak@gmail.com

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