Is The Colbert Report hitting a creative pothole?
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.