After 22 years and 4,263 episodes of hosting “The Late Show,” David Letterman has relinquished his job to Stephen Colbert – the eccentric star of “The Colbert Report” – and so far it has gone very well. Colbert, who played a fictional character with the same name in “The Colbert Report,” can finally be himself instead of the character parody of right-wing television show hosts. While “The Colbert Report” will undoubtedly hold its own place in the hearts of fans, “The Late Show” has found its next star host in Stephen Colbert, and nobody would have been able to just pick up the show and run with it as well as Colbert has.
Everything about the show is fresh, from the stunning new set to the introductory theme song complete with lovely animations presenting New York City and introducing the guests of the show. After 22 years of the same host and largely the same show, the change is welcome and well executed. Even the design of the title is new, and it has a brilliantly clean and simple look that really does “The Late Show” justice.
The theater in which “The Late Show” is filmed, the Ed Sullivan Theater in Brooklyn, New York, has not changed a bit, but the new set is a jaw dropper. It is an impressive combination of the classic New York look that Letterman had for so many years with a bit of the modern feel that could be found on “The Colbert Report.” It is a surprisingly nice fusion, and Colbert has to be comfortable on such a beautiful set that’s got a little taste of home for him.
The introductory theme song is new and lighthearted, and as the camera pans over the animated New York City the names of the guests appear on buildings and on the tops of trains, or on the field of a stadium. It is a creative approach, while still maintaining simplicity, and the introduction is one of the best new changes that is not Stephen Colbert.
Another nice change is the new accompanying band, with the goofy and enjoyable Jon Batiste leading his Stay Human band in replacing the old and odd Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra. This reporter was never a huge fan of the disruptive band leader presence, but Batiste is an enjoyably ridiculous guy that does not have the creepy kind of vibe that Shaffer had. In fact, Batiste’s youth and goofy energy play right into Colbert’s own ridiculous intensity, and the two seem to have a fun dynamic.
Speaking of Stephen Colbert, he is still very enjoyable as himself and not just as his “The Colbert Report” character, and the intensity that he brings is exciting. Where Colbert really shines though, in classic “The Colbert Show” fashion, is in his chemistry with the guests. From Joe Biden to Stephen King to Amy Schumer, the top-shelf guests fail to deter Colbert from being himself, and the conversations are consequently hysterical. While he cannot be at the same level of ridiculousness as he achieved with his guests on “The Colbert Report,” that is alright, as now the guests can have a real conversation with him.
Where the show might fail to impress is if viewers go into it without the realization that the Stephen Colbert from “The Colbert Report” was a constant performance to be in character, and that he is not going to have the same level of ridiculousness that many have come to think of as the real Colbert’s personality. If prospective viewers wanted to get into the show, they should approach it with the expectations for a more professional and grounded personality, and they will be pleasantly surprised with Colbert’s perseverant eccentricity and energy.
While many loved David Letterman, he never had the same kind of charisma that Colbert oozes, and relied mostly on material and guests to provide substance to the show. With a new host capable of carrying the show on his back if necessary, “The Late Show” should just continue to improve, as the same quality comedic material and top-shelf guests can finally be matched by the star quality of the new host.