He’s smarter than his audience, which continues to evaporate on a nightly basis. Always the smartest guy in the room, like Obama, he’s a few levels beyond mere mortals. We just don’t understand the nuance.
This sounds like a strong selling point.
But none of that mattered — for long. D-day for late-night TV was Sept. 9, when Colbert’s splashy, classy introduction to the Ed Sullivan Theater was upstaged abruptly by a commotion a few blocks south at 30 Rock. NBC’s Jimmy Fallon came crashing through TV screens with the most boisterous blockbuster hour of entertainment he could fashion. Opening with a blast of dance and song — “History of Rap 6,” accompanied by his signature guest, Justin Timberlake — and backing it with Ellen DeGeneres in another regular Fallon bit, a lip sync contest, the Tonight Show host made a statement: Welcome to late night, Stephen.
One prominent late-night player told me facing that show that night was like “going up against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Fallon clearly had no interest in sitting back to allow the swirl surrounding Colbert’s arrival to run its course. Those killer second-night bookings were long in the planning and very much the host’s idea, says a Fallon staffer. Colbert’s ratings preeminence lasted 24 hours: Fallon beat him the second night — and 55 of the next 58 nights. During recent weeks, the gap has grown in the 18-to-49 demographic coveted by late-night advertisers.
CBS had no realistic hope of knocking Fallon from his perch atop late night — at least not right away. But Colbert’s solid early numbers have slid (though he’s bringing in a younger audience than his predecessor, David Letterman); the other Jimmy, Kimmel on ABC, has moved ahead of him as well. During Thanksgiving week — admittedly a bit unusual — Colbert fell behind Seth Meyers’ NBC show, which plays an hour later.
Several theories have been floated as to why Colbert’s opening splash seemed to dry faster than expected. One veteran late-night writer calls him a very funny guy doing a quality show, but “maybe too smart for a mass audience?” Another longtime producer says, simply, “He needs to be more commercial, more social media friendly.”
What we need to understand his brilliance are some Voxsplainers and hashtags. Maybe he could get back to DESTROYING conservatives. Hey, maybe Jon Stewart’s interested if they jettison Colbert. Then we could enjoy the stories on his ratings tanking.