Powered by i.TV
November 22, 2014

Is The Colbert Report hitting a creative pothole?

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 28th 2007 12:20PM
Stephen ColbertThis is not a column that is going to say that The Colbert Report has stopped being funny. The show is still strong in that regard, delivering at least one good laugh per episode. But what I'm concerned about that it seems as if the writers of the show are going through a creative drought right now, and I'm wondering if they're going to come back from that drought.

The big indicator to me that there's a bit of an ebb is that lately the producers have been booking two guests on a single show; one gets interviewed during the first segment and the other gets interviewed during the usual third segment. Last night, Colbert spoke to Madeleine Albright, and in previous weeks, first-segment guests have included Al Sharpton, Ben and Jerry, and District of Columbia's congressional delegate Elanor Holmes Norton. While I'd imagine these segments do entail some writing, as Stephen tries to figure out the direction of his questioning, much of the comedy in these interviews depends heavily on his impressive improvisation skills.

But it's more than just the doubling-up of interview segments that's telling me that the show needs a refresher. Unlike The Daily Show, which can shuffle correspondents in and out, try different segments, and utilize Lewis Black when he's in town (though he doesn't write those segments anymore), The Colbert Report is fully dependent on Colbert's "well-intentioned, poorly-informed, high-status idiot" character. And trying to maintain one character is a lot harder than maintaining three or four of them; if you get tired of featuring one person, you can always turn around and feature someone else.

It's a testament to Colbert and the writers that the character hasn't gotten completely played out after almost eighteen months on the air; audience participation bits like the "Green Screen Challenge" have kept fans involved, and Colbert's multiple talents have also helped keep people from tiring of the character. But there are times that I find myself concentrating on something else while the Report is on, looking up to realize the entire show has passed and I didn't hear one joke. That sometimes happens with TDS, but not as often as it happens with the Report. And I'm thinking it's because I'm thinking if I miss a joke one night, I can always watch the next and see basically the same thing: Stephen praising himself, Stephen not seeing color; Stephen asking Democrats whether Bush is a "great" president or "the greatest" president. It's all funny; it's just repetitive, that's all.

What do you think? Is the Report in a creative valley right now? What can the writers do to freshen the formula? Let me know in the comments.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

9 Comments

Filter by:
Steve

I actually think the problem is that at the beginning the show had too little going for it. It used the same "skits" every episode instead of mixing them up. For a show like O'Reilly this works, because he bases his show on beating the living crap out of his ideas into the face of his viewers, but for a show like Colbert's (and the Daily Show for that matter, which is why the cycling of reporters works so well), this gets old fast. I like the idea of bringing in new elements and relegating the older ones to once-a-week skits. He needs to bring in more fresh/different ideas into the show.

As to people coming back later and loving it...
Wait a few months, the things you love now will seem to get old after a few months. I've been watching it from the beginning, and while I still love many aspects of the show, the things you find cute now you only do because they're new to you again, when you see them happening day in day out week after week you'll start to think the show needs to mix it up.

I also think he needs to work on his interviewing skills. The purpose of an interview is to let the guest speak, not to hear the sound of your own voice. The few interviews he has done that were excellent were when he used his schpeil to get the guest talking about a topic in a way to both entertain and educate the audience. Sadly this seems to occur too infrequently. He should watch his real "Poppa Bear", Jon Stewart, more, who has nearly perfected this short interview format.

March 30 2007 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bash

This is another case of "change is bad" journalism. Before I already saw criticism of the usage of correspondents on TDS. Even the changes on Lost are now criticized.

Change is better than staying the same in TV World. TDS is still producing a strong number of new correspondents every year and anyone who thinks that a second interview is a bad sign on TCR is just... I don't know... maybe tired of the show. I think Colbert is better than ever this year. I actually stopped watching last year too and now find myself entertained more than ever by the improv qualities of Colbert. To nail Colbert with his "I see no color" routine seems kind of odd to me when he did not mention this in about thirty episodes (I might be wrong but I can't really remember his last mention of this). Irritating if you ask me. Stating that you could actually miss the whole show if you don't really focus on it is simply because this is a show that's on TV almost every day of the week - of COURSE it's interchangable and of course you really have to focus to actually take something with you - but this is like saying you phase out the real news while watching them and THAT happens to me all the time while in the past I found myself not even turning the _real_ news ON anymore because they started to physically hurt me due to their lameness.

So I guess what you miss is the freshness of both shows because they repeat themselves. Erm... guess what - news repeat themselves. You could watch a newscast about the middle east from 1970 and put it on today without people noticing and TDS as well as TCR aren't responsible for the fact that Bush is still THAT boring and THAT much of a drunken halfwit (sorry).

And Cheney can't shoot an eighty-yearold in the face very day *snicker*

March 28 2007 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SeanTubbs

I agree with Niraj. I took a break for a month or so and came back to find I'd really been missing out.

March 28 2007 at 5:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
viewdrix

I think the first-segment interview is a response to what I'm sensing at least some viewers, and thus the writing staff and Colbert probably sense too, in that The Word has gotten quite played out, and almost boring. That, in combination with how difficult it seems to come up with all those puns and one-liners for the bullet points, makes it feel like the writers are phasing it out from its old nightly segment since the effort just doesn't seem to bear (teehee) the same results it used to.

While I agree that extra interviews aren't the way to go as a replacement for The Word (I tend to skip over the main ones on both The Daily Show and here, and even Better Know a District's advantage in editing it down to the most enjoyable bits can sometimes come out flat), I acknowledge and thank their understanding of their own repetition. Ever since the show premiered, I've found that even if I sleep through their original airing, I have to get used to watching TDS and the Report the next day rather than the end of the week, as I can't bear (teehee again) to watch more than two Report episodes in a row before getting tired. It's a testament to Colbert that he plays the character with just enough restraint so that he doesn't seem like a complete cartoon caricature that grates on your personality. Even more impressive is that he's supposed to be playing an egotistical idiot, yet he's still an addictive person to watch.

Now, as for what to do, when I first noticed The Word would disappear for a night or two, Colbert would plain continue his monologue/headlines and commentary top the commercial break. Compared to The Word every night (maybe it should be reduced to a weekly segment, such as the Threatdown) or extra interviews, this seems the best approach: Colbert riffs on current news for the first act, special segment in the second act (from Threatdown, Tip/Wag, Better Know, SportsReport, to the newly bumped The Word, or things such as Stephen Colbert Day and his latest "feud" with someone), interview in the third.

I don't think they're in a creative drought. I think they realize their own repetition and are struggling for a way to relace the most ageing aspect, which I believe IS The Word.

Or, simply, all these people want to be on the show, and they're struggling to get them on. Probably not, though.

March 28 2007 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Media Glutton

The strongest bits Colbert has are when he interviews people. So when he does more of those, the show is better off, not worse. Creative lull? Please.

March 28 2007 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

When the Colbert Report first debuted, I was skeptical--how could they maintain a show based on a single fake persona night after night? I watched for the first week, and then deleted it from my DVR Series Recording list.

I didn't come back to it until December or January, when a clip I'd seen of a recent show made me think it might be worthwhile. Now I'm addicted. I think the show has gotten stronger and stronger. I don't see the two guests as a sign of flagging creativity; I see just the opposite. Colbert's strength in interviewing--an incredible weakness when he used to sometimes guest host on the Daily Show, and none too impressive when the Report began--has simply exploded in power, and adds so much to the show.

So maybe it's just a matter of personal preference; I was unimpressed at the beginning and impressed now. YMMV.

March 28 2007 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kyle Beasley

I actually used to find myself watching the Colbert Report more intently than the Daily Show. The Daily Show had a new wave of correspondents and it's taken awhile for them to find a niche. Some of them are there and some aren't yet.

I think the Colbert Report actually takes a little more time. They are developing an actual character. He has grown with the show. It's a hard endeavor, but they have been doing great with it. I like that the show has continuity, that they follow up on their jokes. It allows for the material to build and flow out beyond the show. Then once out in our world it altered. Then Stephen takes that altered material and puts his own unique spin on it. It's all pretty brilliant.

(Also nothing makes me laugh more than when I see Jon or Stephen break out of character because they just had to do the weirdest or lamest joke ever.)

http://kylebeabo.blogspot.com/

March 28 2007 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Niraj

I don't think it's in a creative valley, but you're partially right. I also find myself doing other things and hearing bits and pieces. I think it's a matter of us getting used to the character and his mannerisms. That said, they've tried to be more creative recently, it seems, with changing up the usual formula. The multiple guests, Colbert's new challenge to edit him, and Spanish Colbert have all been great. It reminds me of how I stopped watching the Daily Show for a little while because I felt the same way about it then. But then I came back to it and it seemed better than ever.

So if you're feeling burned out the show, take a break for a few weeks and come back. You'll find it's better than ever, because the writing and Colbert's character are consistently good/funny.

March 28 2007 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bryant

Strongly disagree. SC has added numerous recurring segments to keep the show fresh. Yes, it does get repetitive but that is not the funny part. The funny part is that his guests fall for it everytime, and their reaction is the punchline. His quick wit makes the show what it is. He better get that Emmy this year!

March 28 2007 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners