About eight months ago, CBS embarked on an experiment. Could Stephen Colbert, the hip, left-wing comedian who became famous with a late night show on the Comedy Channel make it with a wider audience on “The Late Show” after David Letterman retired? Thus far, the answer has been no. “The #Late Show” has lagged in the ratings behind “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, who has replaced the venerable Jay Leno. The network was hired a new executive producer, according to the New York Times, and is desperately trying the retool “The Late Show” out of the ratings tank Colbert has taken it to. CBS has a lot of money riding on salvaging the show and Colbert’s personal reputation.
The problem with “The Late Show’s” ratings doldrums stems from Colbert himself. His brand of snarky, left-wing political humor won him a niche audience among hip, liberal millennials. He was even celebrated by conservative media for his abrasiveness, outrageousness, and bias. But, “The Late Show’s” audience is broader, older, and more conservative. They find Colbert an unpleasant presence in their living rooms. Late night show fans are switching channels in droves to the more affable Jimmy Fallon and, to a certain extent, Jimmy Kimmel.
Ironically, CBS passed over Craig Ferguson, the one-time star of “The Late Late Show” for Letterman’s replacement. While Colbert comes across as the smart-ass, know-it-all relative that everyone hates to invite to family gatherings, Ferguson is more like the cool, and more than a slightly naughty uncle who is the life of every party. But CBS thought that Colbert would attract a younger audience, a prospect that has yet to materialize. Ferguson has sworn off late night and is currently a host of a game show and a humor oriented panel discussion of The History Channel.
If “The Late Show” cannot be turned around, it is possible that CBS will have created as big a debacle as NBC experienced when it tried to replace Jay Leno with Conan O’Brien. If the network has to buy Colbert out of his contract, who would they bring in as a replacement? Would Craig Ferguson change his mind, given enough money and a favorable contract? CBS had better hope so. #CelebrityTV