Stephen Colbert is having a bad week. I think it’s fair to say this is one of the worst weeks we’ve seen a late night talk show host have since the Conan O’Brien The Tonight Show fiasco in 2010. This is not to say things are just going swimmingly everywhere else – Trevor Noah is still experiencing lackluster ratings and has yet to turn his The Daily Show into a cultural force – but the strange series of events that has followed Colbert around this week is, well, unusual.
Where to start…
1. Well, first, Colbert lost longtime producer Meredith Bennett, who had been with him since The Colbert Report. As Deadline reported, when new showrunner Chris Licht was hired, it was expressly stated this wouldn’t affect Bennett’s position – this turned out not to be true.
2. Then James Corden goes on Howard Stern’s radio show and is asked about potentially replacing Colbert as the host of The Late Show. Corden handled this about as well as one can in a situation like that, saying, “never gonna happen,” but now that’s out there. It’s in people’s heads that this could be a possibility. Are there rumors that this has been discussed internally at CBS? Well, yes – which is probably why Stern brought it up in the first place. But substantiated rumors or not, now the host of The Late Late Show had to issue a denial. People only ask this kind of thing when blood is in the water. Would Seth Meyers be a good host of The Tonight Show? Yes. Are people asking him if he’s taking over for Jimmy Fallon anytime soon? They are not.
If egos and network embarrassment weren’t a factor, switching Colbert and Corden actually makes some sense. Corden hosts the more carnival-type atmospheric show – which has a similar vibe to Fallon – which seems to work well in the 11:35 time slot (and on the internet). Not to mention that Corden is in Los Angeles and he wouldn’t have to directly compete with the New York City-based Fallon for guests, like Colbert does. (If you’ve paid attention to Colbert’s guests at all in the last few months, Colbert does not often win this battle with Fallon.)
Colbert at 12:35 could allow Colbert to just be himself again and book the intellectuals that he likes to talk with. One of Colbert’s biggest problems is he just looks so damn uncomfortable playing the role of an 11:35 p.m. late night host. People say he was playing a character on The Colbert Report? The truth is, he’s playing a character right now, and he’s not very good at it.
3. I had heard some rumors a few months ago that The Late Show was trying to figure out a way to incorporate executive producer Jon Stewart into the show. How far this idea actually got, I have no idea, but this was before Chris Licht was hired. And when I first heard this, it was still at a time when something like this would work without seeming desperate. Now, yeah, Colbert would get hammered for doing something like this. It would be seen as desperate.
Then this past Monday, Jon Stewart winds up appearing on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal. It’s a fun cameo. It doesn’t mean anything in terms of Colbert’s show, but it just has the appearance of Stewart kind of, sort of endorsing Bee’s show when Colbert is having this kind of week. Of course, again, that’s not what is happening. (And I will repeat, Stewart is an executive producer on The Late Show.) It’s just not the best timing.
4. I think at this point it’s a safe bet to assume that David Letterman isn’t the biggest fan of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. At the very least, he has no opinion. But David Letterman has never been the type of person to ever hold back when he wants to praise another comedian. For instance, we know exactly how he feels about Amy Schumer and Billy Eichner. When he’s ever asked about Colbert, he always says something along the lines of, “I had nothing to do with that.”