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The Meaning of Colbert

Dave Randall

Posted on September 17, 2017 19:35

3 users

Why his presence on TV is a necessary pleasure

The job of Emmy host goes to whomever the network airing the telecast wishes to promote. Twenty years ago, CBS wanted to shill its new morning show, so they gave the nod to Bryant Gumbel. 

This year they chose Stephen Colbert from their roster. It's no coincidence: Colbert is riding high these days as the ratings leader in late night, and he brought his musical theater sensibilities, along with the deadly aim of his satirical instincts. The cameo-laden opening number was Emmy-worthy itself, poking holes in all things political, even citing treason, but surmising, in a leg-kicking refrain, "Everything's Better on TV!" It was reminiscent of Tom Lehrer, a name probably not thought of in generations, but you can look him up. He's still living.

The Colbert Emmy monologue made pot roast of President Trump's exposed, marbled, political flesh. And as a palate cleanser, he brought out the real former White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, to exaggerate the size of the show's ratings (as he had the attendance at Trump's inauguration). Without Colbert, who has several Emmys but didn't win this year, the show would have just been Cleavage Fest 2017 (seriously - the subject of another TLT, at another time). 

And thus, CBS succeeded by having him host the show, with his opening up against NFL football on both NBC and FOX. If viewers have not stayed up to see his spot-on, spoofing and sautéing of Trump, or clicked the bits and snips that go viral the next day, they got a good look at the comfort and ease with which Colbert is now performing. It helps that with the election of DJT, the late night game moved further into Colbert's ballpark. He's found his natural footing over the last year, at a time many viewers are searching for laughs to keep from crying over this ... unusual administration.

Colbert has played this fiddle like a Stradivarius. He tops the ratings, though it's hard to say "King" after one year. The entertainment universe is too fragmented, the audience too segmented for any TV presence to have the same historic impact as his forebears. But that presence is necessary. There must be a jester to tease the King, as well as to entertain. King DJT is no fan of being made light of, making it all the more important that jester Colbert do his work, as the last link in network TV's chain of late night stars.

Steve Allen opened the post-11 o'clock door. Jack Paar brought conversation, human foibles and emotion. Johnny Carson set standards for consistency and longevity, and David Letterman would have been his rightful heir had Jay Leno not proven more adept at office politics, as well as playing better in Peoria (poor Conan). Jimmy Fallon had the bad luck of being too nice.

The meaning of Colbert is that, like Allen, Paar, Carson and Letterman, he is a talent germane to his time.

Dave Randall

Posted on September 17, 2017 19:35

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