Colbert vs Fallon

While the last few tributes to David Letterman are pouring in, the metaphorical dust has settled on his era of the Late Show. Even as the sets are removed from the Ed Sullivan theatre and the literal dust is still swirling (who really dusts that bridge in the backdrop) the big question that everyone’s asking; what will Stephen Colbert’s Late Show look like? How will it differ to Dave’s? And, most importantly for CBS, how will it fare against the Tonight Show?


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Since Jimmy Fallon took over the Tonight Show, it’s consistently beaten the Late Show in the ratings, specifically in the youth demographic that television executives are bending over backwards to reach; Fallon has an immeasurably strong grip in the world of online content and social media; the Tonight Show YouTube channel has seven million subscribers. The show’s Twitter account has over two million followers.

Comparatively Dave’s Late Show has…well, a lot less. Two hundred and thirty five thousand. On Twitter Dave fares a bit better with three hundred and forty eight thousand. So I guess the first thing we can assume from the Colbert fronted Late Show is that CBS will try as hard as possible to turn those figures around. They’ll be working on making the new Late Show a lot more marketable online and appealing to the same young audience the Tonight Show now hits.

The next issue to consider is something that’s been in the back of our minds in 2010, the last time the Tonight Show changed hosts. We all remember what happened with Conan and Jay and every single network has pointed out that every transition is to be smooth and there’s not to be a fall out like that again. On Dave’s last show he made it very clear he was excited for Colbert to take over. Whether he truly is or whether that was rhetoric installed by the network is open for discussion. These are markedly different circumstances though; Dave chose to retire. Jay didn’t have that option. So any new Late Show must make it clear that the switch over is amicable to bring about peace in everyone’s time.

I also want to talk a little about something that concerns me personally; who really is Stephen Colbert? On the Colbert Report everyone always maintained that “Stephen Colbert” was a character, and the performance of that character was great. But the downside to that is we don’t really know what he’s going to be like performing as himself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on Colbert; he is a hugely funny, very quick and clever and talented man, but there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to live up to Letterman. Anyone tuning in hoping to find the old Colbert will be disappointed. It’s been made clear from the very first announcement that Colbert the character will be retired and Colbert the man will be in charge of the show. I do have hope in him though; if anyone is going to step into Letterman’s shoes it was going to have to be one of the “cable twins.” The other is off to make movies.

Another concern, and maybe concern is a strong word but it’s the word to use, is the ages between the two men. Fallon is plugged directly into the youth market and is eleven years younger that Colbert, his inspirations are the likes of Conan O’Brien and David Letterman and Fallon is known for stunts with celebrities; lip synch battles and egg roulette, to name but a few. Colbert however is 51; he got into television largely because of Letterman but strikes me as the type of man who’ll strive for a more dignified type of show. Can you imagine him smashing a raw egg against his forehead? Not to say Colbert isn’t capable of being funny and busting out his box; we all remember the version of Friday he did on Late Night, but I feel he’ll go for a more stoic approach to the show, which as mentioned earlier, might clash against the network’s idea of gaining on the Tonight Show. CBS are said to have given him “free reign” but NBC said that when Conan took over the Tonight Show and…well…you know.


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So that brings me to the point. While the circumstances are different and the players are new, the game remains the same. The Tonight Show vs. the Late Show. Instead of Jay vs. Dave it’s now Fallon vs. Colbert. Given that Colbert hasn’t so much as even released a logo for his new show and we know so little about it all we have is guess work and speculation. Reports confirm that Colbert isn’t planning any great shake up of the format; jokes, desk, guests, band. Did Colbert want to do something different? Again, who can tell? Stephen is a wildly creative man; maybe he has wild ideas for the future of late night. But I guess for the beginning he’ll take it slow, settle in and find his groove. Then he’ll start the re-invention process. But given the heads up Fallon already has on him it’s going to be a long fight for finish.

And it’s going to one worth watching.



– Peter Greenwood

TWITTER: @Gappits