Somebody over at CBS is seriously F$%king up. You may have heard that Stephen Colbert is taking over for David Letterman as host of The Late Show and that the new incarnation of the show premiered this week… or possibly you have not because as I said the folks at CBS are not doing their damn job. Replacing a TV icon like Letterman is kind of a big deal especially when the replacement is a cultural juggernaut like Colbert, so one would think the media landscape would have been littered with promotions about the premiere of A New Era in Late Night. In this case, one would be wrong.
I am an avid Colbert fan from way-back. I’m talking like Strangers with Candy way-back. I enjoyed his work on the Daily Show and absolutely loved the Colbert Report. I almost never watch network TV but I was planning on making an exception for Colbert. I was really looking forward to watching that first episode just for the historical context. However, I missed the big kick-off episode. You know why? Because there wasn’t one single bit of promotional material that floated through my media universe that even mentioned Colbert’s new show, let alone the actual date it was coming on. Nothing on the TV I watch, the radio and podcasts I listen to or the assorted websites I visit. I can’t believe after a five month hiatus no one bothered to remind me that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was starting up right after Labor Day.
That’s not entirely true. Someone did mention it to me this week: my Mom. That’s right, a 63 year old woman, who views Paul Reiser as a “new” comedian, knew more about Colbert’s new show than the guy in the primary demographic. There is a very simple explanation for this: Like most senior citizens, Mom watches CBS… a lot. So I’m guessing the Tiffany Network used plenty of its own airtime to promote their newest acquisition but not much else. That is a problem and someone in the marketing department should be losing their job over it.
Let me directly address the executives at CBS for a moment: Your audience is old and getting older. You need to start attracting younger viewers. This is the reason you spent the big bucks to get Stephen Colbert in the first place. Running promos for the new Late Show during N.C.I.S. is like Trojan setting up a booth at ComicCon – even if the audience is interested in trying the product, it is highly unlikely they will ever have an opportunity to do so.
My mom is a nice lady, she even has a decent sense of humor but she can barely stay awake to the end of The Good Wife, there is no way she is making it to 11:30. And she really has no plans to learn how a DVR works. (Note to CBS execs: a DVR is this box that you can program to record TV and play it back later. Yeah, kinda like a VCR. You should maybe look into it. It’s pretty popular with the kids.)
The advertising business has gotten scary good at what they do. Targeted marketing works really well these days. I know because anytime there is a new first-person shooter about to be released I CANNOT escape it no matter where I turn. In fact, the only ads I ever see anymore are for video games, food that doesn’t require me to cook and whatever movie Judd Apatow and his disciples are currently working on. That’s because these are things that over-educated, under-employed guys with poor sleeping habits enjoy. You know what else is enjoyed by dudes in that peculiar Venn diagram? Stephen Colbert. Maybe CBS should think about reaching out to them.
Of my total TV viewing more than half of it involves Comedy Central – you know that exact network where your new boy Steve built a fan base so rabid that he almost got Hungary to name a bridge after him? Yet, with all my hours of CC viewing nary a mention of dear departed Stephen and his new show. However, I am acutely aware of who is on Seth Meyers’ similarly skewed show this week. See, the peacock knows how to butter its bread. The kicker here is that CBS and Comedy Central are both owned by Viacom, which means they could probably get some cross promotion for FREE. Jon Stewart is now listed as an Executive Producer for The Late Show. I’m guessing he still has a few connections over at Comedy Central, right?
Seriously, what was the marketing department doing all summer long? How was this completely off my radar? The show’s very first guest was George f$%king Clooney! If that guy farts in a rental car it shows up in several of my news feeds. They couldn’t have an associate producer call Clooney’s publicist to help get the word out? Maybe they were too busy trying to land the back page of the new phone book before it went to press.
Of course this is all completely apropos. See, I was also a Dave Letterman fan a long time ago. Once I was old enough where my parents would let me stay up to watch his NBC show, I loved it. Back then Letterman was sailing uncharted waters and completely changing the whole idea of comedy. (Surprise, my mom never “got it” and usually went to bed soon after Johnny Carson ended.) Much like Colbert, he built an unorthodox but extremely loyal following with the after-hours set then took his cache over to an earlier slot on CBS. And you know what no one ever wants to admit? Letterman’s show was never quite as good after that. It wasn’t bad but it never had the same edge as it did at 12:30 on NBC. Because that is what CBS specializes in: filing the sharp edges off of entertainment and making it safe for the general public. I’m kind of expecting the same thing for Colbert, sadly.
I’ve watched a couple episodes OnDemand and so far it’s OK. (CBS Exec note: OnDemand is like a Blockbuster Video that you can access right through your TV set. I tell ya’ this digital stuff is amazing!) Stephen’s verve still comes through. I particularly enjoyed the way he nonchalantly mocked Jeb Bush to his face in regards to his juvenile campaign logo – Jeb! – it was a vintage Letterman move. However, the reek of the network cookie-cutter hangs in the air. And if the ratings end up under-performing, it will never occur to the suits upstairs that the promotions department dropped the ball. Instead they’ll bring in focus groups filled with people who absolutely love Mike & Molly but feel Colbert is too “uppity” and then out comes the corporate sandpaper.
In the mean time I will do my best to enjoy The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. These early days of a talk show are always exciting as a lot of trial and error leads to unexpected moments, some good and some bad but usually interesting. And I’m sure my Mom will be excited to check out a performance by Kendrick Lamar – she is all about pimpin’ butterflies.