Monday, April 14, 2014

Letterman, Colbert, and Col-BEAR

The Letterman era will soon come to a close, and nobody loved that period of late night brilliance
as much as me.

In the 1980's, I recorded Letterman's show every night, then dubbed the sweetest material onto a 'best of' tape I would later use, as needed, for inspiration. There was nobody like Letterman. He was fresh, edgy, and irreverent. People loved him, people hated him, and most didn't understand that those emotions are pretty much the same. Letterman elicited passion from his audience.

For those of us who love the Letterman of the 80's and 90's, the Late Show with David Letterman is kind of sad to watch today. After 32 years, and at age 67, I'm sure Dave is tapped for ideas and getting tired, but most of his interviews show it. He has had some amazing moments, but you don't see them as often today. He's doing the right thing. Late night television is transitioning to a fresh, young crop of entertainers, and Dave isn't motivated to compete with "the Jimmies", Seth and Conan.

But what a run. I'm sure Dave never thought he'd be as legendary as Johnny Carson, but he is. The Letterman era managed to move the goal posts. It will be difficult to beat, but that's the good part, nobody has to. Like Johnny Carson, nobody will fill the shoes of Letterman. It simply cannot be done.

Stephen Colbert will move into Mr. Letterman's Ed Sullivan Theater (I assume), and will bring a new dynamic to the show. It would be tempting to maintain his right-wing character persona, since his audience has become comfortable with it, but we must remember who Colbert really is. He's not the Bill O'Reilly wanna-be he portrays on The Colbert Report. (He refers to O'Reilly as "Papa Bear".) It's a shtick, a caricature of itself. Colbert is a real guy, a fantastic talent, an incredibly creative comedian, and a very good interviewer. His show will need to follow a more traditional late-night formula, and to me, that's precisely why it doesn't have to end.

As Carson did with Carnac, and as Jimmy Fallon does with thank you notes, Colbert can keep his persona alive. On Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he can do The Colbert Report as its own segment. His monologue, interviews, other bits and performances can follow the more formulaic talk show modus operandi. But the Colbert Report needn't be lost. It can remain as funny and relevant as ever within its new format.

See? No need to fret. Colbert can still be Col-BEAR and do the re-PORE. You're welcome. Now come in from the ledge.

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