What a difference three months has made to Colbert’s Late Show. It was just back in February 2017 that Colbert was at the very bottom of the late night show ratings heap and struggling to survive. CBS executives were questioning their decision to make Colbert the heir apparent to Letterman’s crown jewel Late Show and were considering swapping in the much-loved James Corden into the time slot. In a last minute Hail-Mary, before they replaced him as the show host, CBS executives allowed Colbert to go any direction he wanted to boost ratings. If the gamble failed they would be able to say that it was of his own making. The problem for them was that Colbert did what he knows best and went full-on political mode and his gambit paid off mightily, catapulting his show to No.1 in late night ratings, leaps and bounds ahead of Jimmy Kimmel Live and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.
It was in this heady ratings environment that Colbert decided to go into a full-on Trump attack mode. Dropping in a lewd and homophobic joke at the end of his otherwise amusing monologue on his Monday, March 1 2017 show, Colbert rattled viewers and the TV industry at a large. The studio audience laughed, but even they knew Colbert had just crossed the line of decency. The angry oral-sex joke seemed to be a bitter response to Colbert’s CBS colleague, John Dickerson, of ‘Face the Nation,’ who had his interview with President Trump cut short after repeatedly pressing the president on his wiretapping claims, which still seems to be a developing news story, but keeps getting Dickerson into trouble. Dickerson should have been grateful he even got the one-on-one interview with the President, but in the end he squandered the opportunity to try to get a “gotcha” journalism Kodak moment, straight out of the tabloid journalism playbook that they used to teach at journalism school, long before writers realized it was no longer a real profession.
The actual lines that Colbert delivered at the end of his Monday night monologue on the Late Show were:
“Mr. President, I love your presidency. I call it ‘Disgrace the Nation.’ You’re not the POTUS; You’re the gloat-us. You’re the glutton with the button. You’re a regular Gorge Washington. You’re the presi-dunce. Sir, you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine. You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla that got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.”
Colbert’s scripted line appears to stray far outside the realms of acceptable network late night comedic content and TV pundits were quick to respond to Colbert’s anti-gay, anti-Trump joke that went just too far for Network TV. It appears that Colbert might have been confused and he may have thought that he was at a Comedy Central Celebrity Roast, where one could expect this kind of roast humor. He tried to insult Trump, but ended up making a grossly homophobic, anti presidential comment. As well as now labeling himself as being anti-gay, Colbert may also be suffering from the left-coast, right-coast disease (LCRCD) that seems to infect elitist celebrities who are quick to forget that the rest of the country voted for Trump. In a single stroke, Colbert may also have just destroyed his previous character from The Colbert Report, that the left and right coasters thought was a hilarious send-up of a right wing pundit and mid-westerners thought was a real person. Colbert may have lost the center of his following, now opening himself up to vitriol, and even violence, from political extremists who view the President as off-limits for this level of vulgar attack humor. It is going to take more than a puff piece by CNN darling, Marisa Guthrie at The Hollywood Reporter, to get Colbert out of this jam.
Colbert stayed mum about the recent events on Tuesdays show, but on the Wednesday show, March 3, 2017, Colbert was forced to bring the subject up. He scoffed at the #firecolbert movement and refused to apologize for his words of hate, but he did indicate that he might have changed a few words in retrospect. He now faces an investigation into lewdness from the FCC, who have received complaints about the content. Given the hour of the show, Colbert may be able to avoid repercussions, although the CBS broadcast channel is still viewed as public airwaves and it has a much higher bar for content than he was afforded on his previous cable channel, Comedy Central. Colbert delivered his non-apology on the show, that bore no remorse, it was as if his lawyers had written it for him some five minutes earlier. Still downplaying it, Colbert described his original monologue as a “few choice insults for the President”. Colberts Late Show is a taped show, so CBS executives were well aware of the content of the show that night and even though they had a full six hour window to edit the taped show before it was broadcast, they allowed it to air in its full form, underlining the network’s apparent hands-off approach to Colberts new direction for the Late Show coupled with a somewhat petty vengeance for the failed John Dickerson Presidential interview. The problem CBS executives now face is that if it turns out that Trump was being wiretapped after all, then they may have backed themselves into a corner where someone at CBS will be fired. Our guess is that it will be Chris Licht, the new exec producer for The Late Show, who came from The CBS Morning Show , as he is the new guy on the block and clearly an easy patsy for this debacle.
CBS seems to have forgotten that The Late Show is a actually supposed to be a comedy show and any short-term ratings gain from angry politic-speak will not win the long game in ratings, when audiences start getting bored with Colberts political attack strategy and his lack of respect for the office of the President of the United States, regardless of which idiot it is.
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