True to character, Stephen Colbert is poised to say good-bye then say hello again. Everyone was in on the gag from the beginning, but happily suspended disbelief because his character was so fun to be with. Watching his Colbert Report on Comedy Central these past nine years proved irresistible for many who ended up preferring to take their news from his desk rather the traditional network desks and media outlets. For many, anticipating his departure, scheduled for this thursday, is an exercise in angst.
The key for viewers was to take whatever it was he said or whatever position he took, flip it, and the news of the day was communicated and understood. His imminent departure, as it turns out, is actually better understood as an imminent return. The paradox is delicious, as the stage he will return to will be bigger than ever.
Colbert is poised to take over CBS’s Late-Show sometime after David Letterman’s last show on May 20. The word is that he will be retiring his all-too-endearing blovivafied, self-regarding caricature of a know-it-all conservative-pundit. The hope many are harboring is that it will raise its head on the occasion, as his by-now longtime friends will need their fix.
Handpicked by CBS Corp President and CEO Leslie Moonves to replace Letterman, expectations are high for him. David Letterman is a legend in the late-night business. He takes viewers back to the glory days of the Carson era, and with his retirement comes a clear demarcation point. As Stephen Colbert is poised to say good-bye then hello again, viewers will be seeing a bit of television history in the making.
With the exit of Letterman and his more traditional, if not reserved, form of comedy will come the entrance of a new generation of viewer with an aggressive, authority-challenging, idiosyncratic disposition and inclination for news filtered through satire. Moonves is a numbers guy, and nothing if not genius according to many. Colbert has a cult following that CBS brass hopes will translate into instant success and healthy ratings for Colbert’s iteration of the Late-Show.
Colbert’s by now mythical persona has become not just a part of the American-cultural landscape, but a driving force behind it. When his character burst on the scene as a part of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, viewers knew they were seeing something fresh and unique. Patterned after the likewise self-confident Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, Colbert captured a sentiment and sense of disconnect many were experiencing but were frustrated in communicating. The American public would see bombast and bloviation and wonder at the spectacle. It was a new kind of reporting but instead of satire it was dead serious. Colbert came along and helped viewers put it into perspective. Loud doesn’t mean better and self-assurance does not make right. O’Reilly saw the caricature and refused to take umbrage. Seeing in Colbert an opportunity to see himself through the eyes of a sometimes bewildered audience was enlightening if not refreshing.
As Stephen Colbert is poised to say good-bye then hello again many will bid him adieu. The good-bye is really just a so-long, as early summer cannot come soon enough for a legion of fans who, by then, will be eager to get their news.
By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By: Reid Rosenberg – Flickr License