The Colbert Report

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The Colbert Report
Colbert Report logo.png
Genre Comedy, news satire
Created by Stephen Colbert
Ben Karlin
Jon Stewart
Joe Antonetti
Directed by Jim Hoskinson
Presented by Stephen Colbert
Opening theme "Baby Mumbles" by Cheap Trick
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 10
No. of episodes 1,447 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Jon Stewart
Tom Purcell
Stephen Colbert
Producer(s) Emily Gasperak
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Spartina Productions
Busboy Productions
Comedy Partners
Broadcast
Original channel Comedy Central
Picture format 480i (4:3 SDTV) (2005–09)
1080i (16:9 HDTV) (2010–14)
Original run October 17, 2005 (2005-10-17) – December 18, 2014 (2014-12-18)
Chronology
Preceded by The Daily Show
Related shows Late Show with Stephen Colbert
External links
Website

The Colbert Report (/klˈbɛr rəˈpɔr/) is an American late-night satirical television program hosted by Stephen Colbert that aired on Comedy Central from October 17, 2005 to December 18, 2014 for 1,447 episodes. The show focused on a fictional anchorman character named Stephen Colbert, played by his real-life namesake. The character, described by Colbert as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot", is a caricature of televised political pundits. Furthermore, the show satirized conservative personality-driven political talk programs, particularly Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. The Colbert Report is a spin-off of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, where he acted as a correspondent for the program for several years while developing the character.

The program was created by Colbert, Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin, and Joe Antonetti. The show's writing was grounded in improvisation, and often lampooned current events stories. The show's structure also included a guest interview, in which the Colbert character attempts to deconstruct his opponent's argument. The show was taped in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, and the program's set is "hyper-American," epitomizing the character's ego. The show was taped and broadcast Monday through Thursday, with weeks taken off at multiple points in a given year for breaks.

The Colbert Report saw immediate critical and ratings successes, leading to various awards, including two prestigious Peabody Awards. The show's cultural influence—which occasionally would require a fair degree of participation from the show’s audience, dubbed the Colbert Nation—extended beyond the program a number of times. This impact included the character running for U.S. President twice, co-hosting a rally at the National Mall, presenting a controversial performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and opening a real super PAC that raised millions of dollars. In addition, the show inspired various forms of multimedia, including music and multiple best-selling books.

Background

Stephen Colbert in 2007

The Colbert Report satirized conservative personality-driven political pundit programs, and focused on a fictional anchorman character named Stephen Colbert, played by his real-life namesake. The character first made appearances on the short-lived sketch comedy series The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, described as "a self-important, trench-coated reporter who does on-location stories in a way that suggests his own presence is the real scoop."[1] Colbert first joined Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 1997, a year following its launch, then hosted by Craig Kilborn. When Jon Stewart became the program's host in 1999, The Daily Show developed a markedly different style, bringing a sharper political focus to the humor than the show previously exhibited. Colbert recalled that Stewart specifically asked him to have a political viewpoint, and to allow his passion for issues to carry through into his comedy.[2] He commented that whereas under Kilborn the focus was on "human interest-y" pieces, with Stewart as host the show's content became more "issues and news driven", particularly after the beginning of the 2000 election campaign with which the show dealt in its "Indecision 2000" coverage.[3][4]

Colbert became a fixture on The Daily Show, occasionally hosting in Stewart's absence.[5] In 2003, the program began running advertisements for a fictional program titled The Colbert Réport, starring Colbert as a parody of cable news pundits.[1] When fellow Daily Show star Steve Carell left to pursue a film and television career, Comedy Central made attempts to keep Colbert at the network. He pitched The Colbert Report to the channel in 2004. Stewart pushed Comedy Central to pick up the show, and Colbert was given an eight-week tryout. Following the show's immediate success, the show "quickly became a fixture in the late-night lineup."[1] On November 2, 2005, based on the strong ratings for the show's first two weeks, Comedy Central and Colbert announced they had signed for an additional year, through the end of 2006.[6] In 2007, co-head writer Allison Silverman became an executive producer of the show.[7]

The fictional Colbert anchorman character became gradually toned down over the course of the show's run, as the host believed he would eventually need to move beyond it.[8] On April 10, 2014, it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman as the host of the Late Show on CBS in 2015.[9] That same day, it was announced by Comedy Central that The Colbert Report would end at the close of 2014.[9] It was later announced that in January 2015 The Colbert Report will be replaced on Comedy Central by The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore hosted by Larry Wilmore from The Daily Show.[10][11] The last episode aired on December 18, 2014.[12]

History

Development

The show is a spin-off of The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart, seen here in 2005.

The character first made appearances on the short-lived sketch comedy series The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, described as "a self-important, trench-coated reporter who does on-location stories in a way that suggests his own presence is the real scoop."[1]

When The Daily Show ran short on time, a short piece starring Colbert, advertising a fictional program titled The Colbert Réport, were added into the program. In these sketches, Colbert began to amplify his character to parody news pundits.[5] Colbert anchored many sketches in his persona, including "Even Stepvhen", in which he debated current issues with fellow correspondent Steve Carell, often devolving into petty name-calling and insults.[1] Colbert and Carrell were viewed as potential breakout stars by staff, and when Carrell left the series in 2004 to start a US version of The Office, Comedy Central made attempts to keep Colbert at the network.[13] Stewart and Karlin were already looking to expand the Daily Show franchise and their production company, Busboy. The duo supposedly came up with the idea for The Colbert Report after watching coverage of the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Bill O'Reilly. Colbert met with network president Doug Herzog the day following the 2004 Emmy Awards to first discuss the concept.[13] The one-line pitch Colbert, Karlin and Stewart developed was "Our version of the O'Reilly Factor with Stephen Colbert."[14] Herzog committed to an eight-week tryout period without a pilot.[1]

By the time of the 2004 election, the character was fully developed.[5] In creating the character, which is designed to be repellant but entertaining, Colbert conferred with Stewart and Karlin. In expressing his hope that his character not be "an asshole," Stewart remarked, "You’re not an asshole. You’re an idiot. There’s a difference."[13] Head writer Allison Silverman reiterated this trait in a later interview, commenting, "There is an essential innocence to his character."[15] Colbert initially felt the character might not be sustainable in a longer format.[1] Despite this, The Colbert Report was designed as an extension of the satiric goals of The Daily Show, combining it with general silliness and character-driven humor.[15] To make sure there was no overlap in subject matter with The Daily Show, Karlin made trips between the studios during the show's early days to supervise scripts.[13] For the first several years of the program, Colbert made an appearance at the end of each Daily Show in split-screen, having a short discussion with Stewart preceding his show.[16][17]

Production

I call the show, jokingly, "The Joy Machine," because if you can do it with joy, even in the simplest show, then it's "The Joy Machine" as opposed to "The Machine." Considering the speed at which we do it, we'll get caught in the gears really quickly unless we also approach it with joy.

Stephen Colbert describing the show's production, 2009[18]

The show's writing was grounded in improvisation, employing a "yes to everything" mentality.[1] Much of the show's humor derived from extended improvisational games with the show's studio and at-home audience, such as Colbert's poll to name a bridge in Hungary after himself.[18] Many of the show's writers have improvisational training and at one point put together "improv evenings" at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre once a month.[1] Writers on The Colbert Report were predominantly male and white; this lack of diversity was acknowledged by Colbert, who contended that writers were considered solely based on the quality of their material, and that he did not even look at the name on their writing packets before hiring them.[19] Subjects considered too dark were not even considered for comedic material; for example, the show would poke fun at press coverage of a tragedy, rather than the tragedy itself.[20] Issues discussed on the show were later reported on actual newscasts, in turn allowing the show to comment on its own impact, creating an echo chamber of sorts.[18] This led Colbert to describe his show, "at its purest expression, is a pebble that we throw into the puddle of the news, and then we report on our own ripples."[18]

Ideas were considered in the show's morning pitch meeting, which could range from "harrowing" to smooth.[20] Colbert was described as having "demanding standards," quoted as remarking, "Let's make it perfect and then cut it."[1] Dozens of ideas were either implemented into the program, deleted, or saved for a later date (these jokes were often forgotten due to the pace of news).[1] Jokes would go unused if they did not specifically fit the character's point of view, which was deemed the inverse of what "any logical person" feels.[19] Writing for the program was once described as "all-consuming," leaving no time for outside activities.[1] Ideas with considerable potential are categorized into the "hopper" category, where it can be rewritten and developed, while more fully formed ideas are placed in what they deemed the "pantry."[20]

By 11am, a rough outline for the show would typically be completed and writers would be sent off in pairs to complete scripts, which are polished throughout the day.[1] Writers would then scan news articles for ideas and partner together in pairs, with one "keeping track of possible jokes."[20] During an appearance at the New York Comedy Festival in 2013, some writers admitted to procrastinating until the last hour before rehearsal to complete their sections; Colbert confirmed that segments such as ""The Wørd," in the early days of the program, were scripted entirely during the rewrite before rehearsal.[19][20] Both writers would typically act out their dialogue aloud in order to understand whether or not the Colbert character would say them.[15] While writers are working on their respective scripts, the show's production and graphics team would be compiling music, footage, and props needed for the show.[15] To collect video clips of news programs to comment on, the show would cross-reference transcripts of archived TiVo recordings.[21] In 2011, the show switched to the software Snapstream which streamlined the process; the program searches closed captioning for select words and records hours of television.[22] In addition, a group of coders on the show's staff developed the software Scripto to collaboratively edit scripts in real time.[23]

By 1pm, the show would hold a second production meeting to go over the writers' scripts, and to determine which pieces to edit.[15] Scripts were "hopefully" completed around 4pm, and the show's rehearsal would take place at 5:30pm, occasionally earlier.[15] Following this rehearsal, attended by the entire staff, final changes were made to the show's script.[5] The final rewrite would take place in a "small, red, poorly ventilated room" until 6:45pm.[15][19] Prior to interviewing guests, Colbert would meet with the guest in the green room and acknowledges that he is playing a character, noting that this character is "willfully ignorant of what you know and care about," and to "honestly disabuse me of what you see as my ignorance."[18] Emily Lazar, a guest producer on the program, would advise guests to talk with Colbert as though he were a "harmless drunk at the next bar stool."[24] Guests would typically take their seats around 7pm, when a warm-up comedian (which included Jared Logan and Paul Mercurio) delivered jokes.[25] Colbert, out of character, typically held a brief question and answer session with the audience prior to taping.[18] The show's taping could last up to three hours,[25] and typically would around 9pm, after which the show was edited and sent to Comedy Central for broadcast.[1] After the taping, the staff would meet for one final time to work through details for the following night's show.[15]

Set

Colbert on the original set of The Colbert Report, used from 2005 until 2010.

The Colbert Report was taped and broadcast four nights a week, Monday–Thursday.[14] The show's taping studio, at 513 W. 54th Street New York, NY 10019 located in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, was used for The Daily Show until July 2005,[5] and has a capacity of 150.[25] NEP Studio 54 on 54th Street is owned by NEP Broadcasting which is New York City's largest production facility and also owns The Daily Show set at NEP Studio 52 two blocks south on 52nd Street. Aside from the set, the show's production offices have been described as "loft-like" and "all overhead pipes and exposed brick."[16] Following the show's conclusion, the building will be used by The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.[26]

The show's set was designed by Jim Fenhagen, and was intended to both capture the character's ego and be "hyper-American."[27] Elements incorporated into the set included architectural lines converged to Colbert's desk, and radial beams coming out from behind his chair.[18] Colbert's main influence for the set was Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper,[28] with the Colbert character as Jesus Christ.[27] The background includes faux artifacts from the character's backstory, which are seldom seen by viewers. "I kept saying, 'People might not really notice this.' But when you're working with a comedy team, they really get into it. They couldn't help themselves," said Fenhagen. Among these touches are the Constitution, miniature Ten Commandments, and a CliffNotes guide to American government.[27] The set was described as "part Riefenstahlesque homage to the star, part symbologic gallery — where alert viewers are rewarded with snarky jokes at every turn."[27] The graphics used throughout the show and the studio itself are saturated with American flags, bald eagles, Captain America's shield, and other patriotic imagery.[29] In the set, "virtually every inch emblazoned with Colbert's name or the initial C."[16] The show debuted an updated set in January 2010.[30]

The set for The Colbert Report was called "The Eagle's Nest" and reflects and facilitates Colbert's self-aggrandizing style.[27] The set has two main areas: the desk, from which Colbert hosts most of the show, and the guest interview area to camera right, where his guest for the evening is interviewed. Colbert's desk is in the shape of serifed C, standing for Colbert. On one wall, there is an artificial fireplace with the engraving "Videri Quam Esse," meaning, "to seem to be rather than to be"; it is a play off of the traditional Latin phrase "esse quam videri," or, "to be, rather than to seem to be," reflecting Colbert's mock right-wing personality. Above this fireplace is a portrait of Colbert; it originally showed Colbert standing in front of the same mantel with another portrait of himself. On the show's first anniversary, the portrait was replaced by one of Colbert standing in front of the mantel with the first portrait above it; the original was auctioned off at a charity event[31] and currently hangs in the Sticky Fingers restaurant in Colbert's native Charleston, S.C.[32] Colbert stated that the portrait will be changed every year to add another level of depth. On October 17, 2007, the portrait was removed and replaced with a new one that followed an identical pattern, but changed Colbert's placement in the foreground.

The Colbert portrait hanging on display near the bathrooms of the National Portrait Gallery.

On January 16, 2008, the "three-deep" Colbert portrait was placed on display "right between the bathrooms near the 'America's Presidents' exhibit" at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.[33] After first being rejected by the National Museum of American History, Colbert petitioned the Smithsonian to display his portrait, who agreed to "go along with the joke", though they stressed that it was only temporary. Colbert said "I don't mean to brag, but as it contains three portraits, my portrait has more portraits than any other portrait in the National Portrait Gallery!" The portrait was then put on display at the Smithsonian until April 13. On October 16, 2008, the three-deep portrait was officially donated to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian's American Treasures exhibit. In September 2009, the portrait was retired to the Smithsonian's collection. At the end of that show, a new 5-deep portrait was unveiled, with the newest Colbert holding his newly won Primetime Emmy Award with another Primetime Emmy Award and a Peabody by the mantle.

Outside the studio

The graphics used throughout the show and the studio itself are saturated with American flags, bald eagles, Captain America's shield, and other patriotic imagery.[29] The set contains many references to Colbert, and on the show's first episode he pointed out several examples: his name, initials and the name of the show appear on the desk's plasma screen, on the rafters above the desk, and the desk itself is shaped like a giant "C".[27] In an interview with The A.V. Club, Colbert explained that much of the design for the set was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. "All the architecture of that room points at Jesus' head, the entire room is a halo", Colbert said. "On the set, I'd like the lines of the set to converge on my head. And so if you look at the design, it all does, it all points at my head...there's a sort of sun-god burst quality about the set around me."[28] On the floor to the front stage right of his desk there is an eagle's nest, and a tape outline of where he injured his wrist, akin to those seen at murder scenes on television police procedurals.

For the week of April 14 through April 17, 2008, the program was taped at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania campus, in advance of the Democratic Party primary in that state on April 22. This was the first time the program has been taped outside its regular New York City studios.[34]

In an interview with Lisa Rose for nj.com published on October 26, 2009, Colbert mentioned that a new set was being built and would premiere sometime in January 2010.[35] The new set was introduced on the show on January 4, 2010, along with a new opening graphic for the show's transition to HD broadcasting.

Format

Colbert, in his television series persona, prepares to interview Michelle Obama in 2012.

Typically, Colbert starts with the audience going insane and teasers regarding the show's topics and guest; each headline is structured to be a deliberate pun. The series of puns are followed by a verbal metaphor that promotes the show and is almost always finished with, "This is the Colbert Report." The show's original opening title sequence began with an eagle diving past the host, following by images of Americana, stock footage of Colbert, and words describing Colbert flying by (some of which have been used as The Wørd). The first word used was "Grippy", and has changed to include, among others, "Megamerican", "Lincolnish", "Superstantial", "Flagaphile", and "Factose Intolerant". The May 4 episode in 2009 featured "346x" as a hint planted by J. J. Abrams about when and where Colbert would be in the Persian Gulf, and "Farewellison" for the final episode of former producer Allison Silverman.[citation needed] The show's opening credits depict the Colbert character clutching an American flag.[1] On January 4, 2010, a new opening debuted. The opening begins and ends with an eagle as before, but features new background renderings, new shots of Stephen Colbert, and is now colored in an American, red white and blue motif. The show's theme music is "Baby Mumbles" by Cheap Trick. Colbert phoned guitarist Rick Nielsen during development of the show to discuss the theme, noting that he loved the band's song "I Want You to Want Me"; the show's theme music is largely that song's melody backwards.[36]

Following the opening sequence, Colbert most often proceeds with a run-through of recent headlines in a manner parodying traditional news broadcasts; this is similar to The Daily Show but with a faux-right-wing spin. The program typically continues with Colbert addressing a specific topic. Colbert often calls to "Jimmy", a reference to program director Jim Hoskinson, to roll video clips.[19] That topic will often lead into a "The Wørd" segment, which juxtaposes Colbert's commentary with satirical bullet points on-screen, a parody of The O'Reilly Factor '​s "Talking Points Memo".[37] On occasion he will conduct a short interview with someone having to do with the topic. The format of the middle segment varies, but it is normally a visual presentation or skit. Often, these skits are parts of recurring segments, which may include "Better Know a District", in which Colbert interviews a U.S. Representative from a certain district of the United States; "Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger", in which Colbert voices his approval or disapproval of prominent people and news items; "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.", a health segment; "The Sport Report" with the "t" in both Sport and Report silent, a sports segment; and "The ThreatDown", in which Colbert lists the five greatest threats to America, and others. His newest segment, "Thought for Food" deals with the consumption of specific foods across the world.

Sometimes, there is a "Colbert Report Special Repor-t" (the final 't' pronounced with special emphasis), or even a "Colbert Report, Sport Report, Special Repor-t", in which Colbert devotes a section of an episode, and sometimes the entire episode to a special subject. The third segment is almost always an interview with a celebrity guest, often an author or government official.[38] Unlike the late night talk show standard of the guest walking out to the host’s desk, Colbert instead runs to a separate area of the set to interview his guest, basking in the applause and glory meant for the guest.[39] On the interview segment of the show, Colbert frequently attempts to nail his guest by using various rhetorical devices and fallacies to prove them wrong.[40] The real-life Colbert once remarked that his personal favorite segment of the program were the interviews, which involved more listening on his end in order for the character to "ignorantly deconstruct" his opponent's argument.[18] The third segment of the show is on occasion a musical guest. Prominent musical guests have included Metallica, Paul McCartney, Rush, Green Day, Paul Simon, Crosby Stills & Nash, Pavement, Cat Stevens, Yo-Yo Ma, Radiohead and Black Star. Afterwards, Colbert ends the show by giving some parting words to the audience or, if short for time, a simple "that's it for the report everybody, good night".

Character

The host of The Colbert Report is Stephen Colbert, a "self-important right-wing commentator,"[41] portrayed by his real-life namesake. The character incorporates aspects of Colbert's real life, but is primarily a parody of cable news pundits, particularly Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, whom he refers to as "Papa Bear".[42] To this end, the character even incorporates O'Reilly's mannerisms, described as his "pen-wielding, hand-stabbing gestures."[1] O'Reilly's use of "talking points" — illustrated onscreen graphics reflecting the host's opinions — are parodied on The Colbert Report with the segment "The Wørd".[17] He initially incorporated long-winded, verbose metaphors to parody CNN correspondent Aaron Brown.[17] In addition, the character was also heavily inspired by Stone Phillips, Bill Kurtis and "especially" Geraldo Rivera. "I loved the way Geraldo made reporting a story seem like an act of courage," Colbert told a reporter in 2012.[1]

The core principle of The Colbert Report is that Colbert is a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot."[18] The character believes that he himself is the news: rather than a vessel to deliver the news to the audience, or a general member of the media, the character sees himself as more important than the news.[18][28] He is veracious in his approach, while often ridiculously overblown in his statements.[18] The character is egomaniacal, fact-averse ("factose intolerant"), God-fearing, and hyper-patriotic. He claims to be an independent who is often mistaken for a Republican, but uniformly despises liberals and generally agrees with the actions and decisions of the Republican Party.[43] Colbert's character has been described as a "caustic right-wing bully".[44] The character exists not in opposition to political leaders, but to common ignorances; for example, his insistence that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama had Socialist leanings was based on public misconceptions.[18] In parodying the cult of personality,[28] the Colbert character also developed a real-life equivalent, creating what was dubbed the "Colbert Nation".[13] While giving the character a certain mythos was part of the show's inception, show producers did not set out to create a loyal following; the joke was that the character thought he had an influence, but that was a figment of his ego-riddled imagination.[24]

It’s all about this [character] because there’s a culture of victimization of these hosts. They feel like they’re the ones who are the story, and they are being attacked by the powers that be or by some nefarious cabal. That’s all based upon one person. That’s how it came about, just me and the camera.

Colbert on the character[30]

Despite his appearance of always being in charge, Colbert is vulnerable: he feels deeply threatened by those wielding more power than he,[15] and he suffers from "arctophobia", the fear of bears, which he refers to as "giant, marauding, godless killing machines".[45] He will alert the audience to what he perceives as the latest national threat (the subject of a recurring bit, "ThreatDown"), only to justify his own fears and impose those onto his audience.[24]

As the show progressed, Colbert gradually began to tone down the character,[8] allowing guests in interviews to "get his or her own message across." The show's longevity created what The New York Times described as "a winking quality to the act, a sense that we’re all in on the joke."[1] Colbert himself acknowledged that he “rarely hit it as hard as I used to,” noting that “You have to be vigilant to stay ignorant.”[24] He noted that his own personal opinions can occasionally align with his character's, when liberal guests' agendas appeared based on dislike than logical argument.[18] Politician and former vice president Al Gore accidentally referred to the persona as a "character" in a 2011 interview on the show, and in 2013, Colbert further blurred lines when he spoke regarding the death of his mother on the program.[46] In doing so, many commentators referred the show's longevity and the development of a "third" Colbert — one a faux pundit and one informed by the performer's own life.[46]

When O'Reilly appeared on The Daily Show before the second episode of The Colbert Report aired, he commented, "Before we get started, somebody told me walking in here, you got some French guy on after you making fun of me?", and made several references in the following interview to 'the French Guy'.[47][48] In a subsequent Newsweek interview, O'Reilly said that he "feels it's a compliment" to have Colbert parody him because Colbert "isn't mean-spirited" and does not "use [his] platform to injure people". Later, Colbert replied on-air, "I like you too. In fact, if it wasn't for you, this show wouldn't exist."[49]

Themes

Colbert disagreed that the show's emphasis on politics represented a liberal bias, noting that he himself was disinterested in modern politics.[18] He believed that political issues reflect basic human behavior, which he viewed as his satirical specialty, noting, "If I thought I had a political point, I'd be in big trouble."[18] In another interview, Colbert remarked, "I'm not someone with a particular political ax to grind. I'm a comedian. I love hypocrisy."[16]

Episodes

Notable episodes

Drill sergeant SFC Chantz correcting PVT Colbert at Fort Jackson.

Early years

The Colbert Report premiered in October 2005. The first guest was Stone Phillips, a partial influence on the character.[16] In the debut episode, Colbert coined the word truthiness, defined as "a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts."[50] Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.[51][52] The character's forceful nature confused some in the program's early days. During an appearance on the segment "Better Know a District" in the show's first season, a frustrated Barney Frank declined to continue, deeming the conversation too dumb.[53]

The show's popularity resulting in Colbert headlining the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, which he performed in character. The controversial, searing routine targeted President George W. Bush and the media, and was greeted with chilly reception from the audience.[54] Although President Bush shook Colbert's hand after his presentation, several of Bush's aides and supporters walked out during Colbert's speech, and one former aide commented that the President had "that look that he's ready to blow".[55] Colbert's performance quickly became an Internet and media sensation.[56][57] According to Vanity Fair, the speech transformed Colbert as a "folk hero" for liberals, and was later described by Frank Rich as the "defining moment" of the 2006 midterm elections.[5] Adam Sternbergh of New York, a year after the show's debut, deemed the character "something very close to what he's parodying, a kind of Bill O'Reilly for the angry left."[13]

In 2006, Colbert encouraged fans to vote for his name to be the new name of a bridge in Hungary, which was being decided via an online poll; he beat the runner-up by more than 14 million votes. He was, however, disqualified, as the name of the bridge was intended to be a memoriam.[5] Later that year, he began a mock feud with indie rock group the Decemberists over the subject of who was the first to challenge fans to create a green screen video; the fake conflict culminated in a guitar solo competition on the show's final episode of the year, featuring guest appearances from guitarist Peter Frampton and Dr. Henry Kissinger.[58][59] Colbert later recalled it as the show's "craziest" moment, changing the way the staff viewed the program: "Because you realize the character believes anything he thinks, says, [or] cares about is important, anything fits on the show. [...] That is the show where we said, oh, there is unlimited open field running."[60]

In February 2007, Ben & Jerry's unveiled a new ice cream flavor in honor of Stephen Colbert, named Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream.[61] All proceeds were donated to charity through the Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund, which distributed the money to various causes.[62] In June 2007, Colbert broke his left wrist while performing his warm-up for the show.[63] It was the subject of an extended bit on the program, including the creation of the "Wriststrong" wrist band, based on Lance Armstrong's "Livestrong" wrist band, which donated all proceeds to the Yellow Ribbon Fund. Colbert remained on the air without writers during the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007–08.[64] Colbert modified the pronunciation of the show's name, pronouncing both of the formerly elided final "t"s (/ˈkoʊlbərt rəpɔrt/); a similar move was made by The Daily Show which returned to air as A Daily Show.[65] During this period, he staged a mock feud between himself, Jon Stewart, and Late Night host Conan O'Brien.[66]

In 2008, Colbert made a series of jokes directed at various towns in the United States named "Canton", with many attracting negative responses from each respective area's local government and residents.[67][68][69] In 2009, Colbert filmed a series of four episodes for the troops in Baghdad, Iraq. He had a suit tailored for him in the Army Combat Uniform pattern and went through an abbreviated version of the Army's basic training regimen. On the first of the four episodes, Colbert had his head shaved on stage by General Ray Odierno who was jokingly "ordered" to do so by President Barack Obama, who appeared on the episode via a pre-recorded segment from the White House.

Later years

In 2010, while in character, Colbert appeared before judiciary subcommittee hearing on the issue of farm workers and immigration.[70] The New Yorker used Colbert's testimony before Congress as an example of the "third" Colbert: "Colbert was thoughtful and sincere—and had ruined the whole thing. By speaking honestly, he had become the very thing he was mocking, a celebrity testifying before Congress."[46] Beginning in June 2011, the show created a long-running gag that involved Colbert starting his own actual super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, described by the character as "100 percent legal and at least 10 percent ethical."[71]

In 2012, Colbert interviewed illustrator/author Maurice Sendak, who managed to get him to break character; show staff and Colbert himself retrospectively labeled the segment one of the show’s more memorable moments.[19] The Los Angeles Times called the September 2013 interview with intelligence official Philip Mudd his "most awkward interview," stating Mudd "could barely disguise his contempt" for Colbert.[72]

President Barack Obama guested during the show's final month, in a show taped from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; Obama sat in Colbert's seat and presided over "The Wørd" segment.[73][74]

Final episode

The show's final episode was broadcast December 18, 2014; portions of the show's set were auctioned off for charity.[75] Colbert accidentally kills "lifelong friend and colleague" Grimmy in a final segment of "Cheating Death", after which he becomes immortal and uses his powers to fuel a star-studded celebrity singalong of "We'll Meet Again", including Jon Stewart, Randy Newman, Bryan Cranston, Willie Nelson, Yo Yo Ma, Mandy Patinkin, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Tom Brokaw, David Gregory, J.J. Abrams, Big Bird, Gloria Steinem, Ken Burns, James Franco, Barry Manilow, Bob Costas, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Bill de Blasio, Katie Couric, Patrick Stewart, George Lucas, Henry Kissinger, Cookie Monster, Alan Alda, Eliot Spitzer, Vince Gilligan, Jimmy Wales, and a tweet from Bill Clinton before boarding a sleigh driven by Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln, and "the man with all the answers".[76] At the end of the show, Colbert tosses back to Stewart at The Daily Show, implying that the show's existence was an extended correspondent report for the program.[77]

Reception

Critical response

Initial reviews

Reviews of The Colbert Report upon its 2005 premiere were positive, although critics were generally skeptical that the character could extend beyond one season without growing tiresome.[78] While positively reviewing the program as a whole, Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune echoed these sentiments: "The biggest question hanging over The Colbert Report is whether the show’s sendup of the pomposity and fear-mongering of cable news blowhards will be as appealing in the long term."[79] Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer summarized the show's early reaction: "Critics and bloggers either loved the premiere or declared themselves to be unmoved, but that's the standard reaction after any late-night program's debut. A truer measure will be seen in coming weeks, after the hype wears off and the ratings lose their exuberance."[80]

Gilbert Cruz of Entertainment Weekly noted that "Colbert proves that the line between serious TV journalism and utter nonsense is a very thin one indeed."[81] Heather Havrilesky of Salon was effusive, remarking, "Not only does Colbert maintain his persona without skipping a beat throughout the entire show, but he’s got great comic timing, the show’s writers are brilliant, and the whole thing is pure foolish, bizarre, idiotic fun."[82] Barry Garron of The Hollywood Reporter dubbed it an "auspicious debut," writing, "The new show dovetails nicely with its lead-in to present a solid hour of skewered news and punctured pomposity."[83] Variety '​s Brian Lowry commented that the show had an "impressive start with a topnotch premiere followed by a respectable second outing."[84] Paul Brownfield of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "In the run-up to the show it all sounded a bit hard to get your head around, but in the flesh the show zinged, at least this first week."[78]

The Boston Globe '​s Matthew Gilbert praised the show's wordplay, summarizing, "[Colbert]'s a clever creation, and a necessary one, and he deserves an opportunity to offend as many people as possible with his pompous blather."[85] Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times commented that the show was a welcome addition to the Comedy Central lineup, remarking, "What puts Mr. Colbert over the top is that he is not just impersonating well known television personalities, he also uses parody to score larger points about politics and the press."[86] Nevertheless, there were more negative reviews: USA Today '​s Robert Bianco opined that the show "tried too hard," writing, "Unfortunately, in just two weeks on the air, this half-hour spoof of a no-spin-zone type show has already stretched Colbert's character and the artifice that supports it past its natural breaking point."[87]

Later reviews

The New Yorker remarked that the show remained funny throughout its entire run.[46] The Colbert Report currently scores favorable reviews, with 65/100 on Metacritic (first season), while its viewers ranking on the site is higher at 8.7/10.[88]

Ratings

The ratings of The Colbert Report, from its premiere, benefited from the lead-in The Daily Show provides, which at the time of the show's debut averaged 1.3 million viewers per night.[17] Comedy Central had previously struggled to produce a hit program on par with The Daily Show, and were counting on Colbert after a string of failures.[17] The Colbert Report drew 1.13 million viewers for its premiere episode, 47 percent greater than the average for that time slot over the previous four weeks,[89] and 98 percent of the viewership of The Daily Show, which had Comedy Central's second-largest viewership.[90] Averaged over its opening week, The Report had 1.2 million viewers per episode, more than double the average for the same time the previous year, when the time slot was occupied by Too Late with Adam Carolla.[91]

The show regularly began attracting over one million viewers with near immediacy. The show also drew more young men, a powerful demographic, than other late-night hosts (at that time, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O'Brien).[5] Within a year, The Colbert Report began averaging 1.5 million viewers per night.[24]

In early 2008, in the midst of the writer's strike, Colbert posted an eleven-percent gain over its averages from the following fall.[92]

From 2012 to 2013, viewership decreased from 1.2 million to 1.1 million.[93] In 2013, The Colbert Report was the second most-watched late-night talk show (behind The Daily Show) among the demographic of adults 18-49, beating competition The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in that demographic for the first time.[94] That year, The Colbert Report attracted $52.1 million in advertising for an audience whose median age was 39.4, about a year younger than The Daily Show.[93] In 2014, the final year of the show's run, ratings were down three percent (coinciding with a general ratings slide for cable television).[95]

The series finale on December 18, 2014 was watched by 2.481 million viewers, making it the most watched episode ever in the show's history. The finale was the most watched cable program of the night in its time slot, beating The Daily Show which was seen by 2.032 million viewers.[96][97]

Awards

The Colbert Report was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 2006 (despite having only been on the air for two and a half months at that point), but lost to The Daily Show.[5] The Colbert Report was nominated each year for the rest of its run for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series, but lost each time to The Daily Show until 2013, when it broke the latter program's winning streak, dubbed the longest in Emmy history.

In 2006, The Colbert Report was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards, one more than its parent, The Daily Show.[98] However, The Colbert Report lost two of its Primetime Emmy Award opportunities to The Daily Show—Colbert received one as a then-member of The Daily Show's writing staff. Colbert also lost Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program to Barry Manilow, who was nominated for a one-time PBS special, as Colbert jokingly noted while presenting a Primetime Emmy Award later that night. Manilow later appeared on the show to sign a peace treaty with Colbert, in which they agreed to joint custody of the award. The two then sang a duet of Bruce Johnston's song "I Write the Songs" (a former Manilow hit). The show was nominated for:

  • Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, Stephen Colbert
  • Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program, Episode No. 110
  • Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program

Additionally, the show was nominated for two Television Critics Association Awards:[99] Outstanding Individual Achievement in Comedy (Stephen Colbert), and Outstanding New Program of the Year. The Colbert Report was also nominated for Satellite Awards in two categories in 2005 and 2006:[99] Actor in a Series, Comedy or Musical (Stephen Colbert), and Television Series, Comedy or Musical. It was also given a Special Recognition award at the 2007 GLAAD Media Awards.[100]

In 2007, The Colbert Report was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards for the second consecutive year, in the same categories as in 2006.[101] Not only did none of the nominations result in an award for the second straight year, that year's winner for Outstanding Individual Performance was another singer, Tony Bennett.[102] Likewise, Bennett eventually sang with Colbert on the program. In 2008, The Colbert Report won the Producers Guild of America Award for "Best Live Entertainment/Competition Show".[103]

In May 2008, The Colbert Report received a George F. Peabody Award recognizing its excellence in news and entertainment.[104]

In 2008, The Colbert Report was again nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards for the third consecutive year, and for the same four categories as listed above and won for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program.[105]

In 2009, the Best Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program category was eliminated.

Colbert was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 2010 for A Colbert Christmas.[8]

On August 21, 2010, it was announced that The Colbert Report won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program for its episodes broadcast from Iraq.[106]

In 2012, The Colbert Report won a second Peabody Award for its Super PAC-related coverage.[107]

In 2013, The Colbert Report won two Emmys, one for Outstanding Variety Series and one for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. The Colbert Report winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series broke the longest winning streak in Emmy history, beating The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which dominated the Best Variety Series competition from 2003 to 2012.[108]

In 2014, The Colbert Report won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host.

Other honors

Colbert has received several other honors and distinctions.

Titles

Colbert received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Knox College, Illinois on June 3, 2006;[109] his credit as producer has been listed since that time as "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A."[110] (later changed in April 2009 to "Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." after Colbert was knighted by Queen Noor of Jordan in exchange for his support of the Global Zero Campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons).[111]

On October 21, during the appearance of Patrick Henry College chancellor, Michael Farris, Stephen was presented with the honorary title of Arbiter of American Morality and Defender of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.[112]

Controversy

The Colbert Report has on occasion created controversy. In March 2014, the show attracted controversy when Colbert used a "fatuously fake parody stereotype character, 'Ching-Chong Ding-Dong,'" to "satirize knee-jerk mockery" of Asian dialect.[113] The name had been used before without incident, but the show's official Twitter account — run by an unknown individual — tweeted the remarks without context, leading to wide outrage over social media, including a hashtag campaign, "#CancelColbert," that was a worldwide trending topic for over 24 hours.[113]

Legacy and accolades

The New Yorker wrote that "Colbert has made vital observations about the American political system, particularly about the sordid role that money plays within it. The Colbert Report and the Daily Show [...] have changed the way that young liberals of a certain class think and talk about civic culture."[46]

Colbert at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010, which attracted over 215,000 people.[114]

The show also coined another word, wikiality, that means "reality as decided on majority rule." Viewers of the show also coined a word, freem, based on its inclusion in the show's opening sequence; the word refers to "'freedom' without having to 'do' anything — without any responsibility or action."[15] In response to the "Better Know a District" segment, Rahm Emanuel, then the Democratic Caucus chair, instructed incoming freshmen not to do appearances on the show in 2007.[115] In 2008, East Carolina University associate professor Jason Bond named a species of trapdoor spider Aptostichus stephencolberti in honor of Stephen Colbert.[116]

The "Colbert Bump" is defined, connotatively by the Report, as an increase in popularity of a person (author, musician, politician, etc.) or thing (website, etc.) as a result of appearing as a guest on or (in the case of a thing) being mentioned on the show. For example, if a politician appears on The Colbert Report, they may become more popular with certain voters and thus are more likely to be elected. According to the American Political Science Association, contributions to Democratic politicians rose 40% for 30 days after an appearance on the show.[117] Magazines such as GQ, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated have all had sales spikes when Colbert appeared on their covers.[118]

Viewers of The Colbert Report were on numerous occasions cited as being more knowledgeable about current events than traditional news viewers. In April 2007, a Pew Research Center report cited both Colbert and The Daily Show viewers as more well-informed than those who gathered their information via newspapers, television news and radio.[5] Colbert's Super PAC coverage was widely lauded, and studies later found that this coverage was more effective that traditional news programs on educating the audience on campaign finance. He was awarded a Peabody Award for the parody, which was described as an "innovative means of teaching American viewers about the landmark court decision".[119] The Annenberg Public Policy Center reported in 2014 that the Colbert Super PAC segments increased viewers' knowledge of PAC and 501(c)(4) campaign finance regulation more successfully than other types of news media.[120][121]

International distribution

Outside of the United States, The Colbert Report has been shown in Canada on The Comedy Network, simultaneously with its original U.S. broadcast, since shortly after its debut. Since September 22, 2014, due to The Comedy Network's acquisition of Canadian rights to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the program has been airing at 11:30 on M3 and will do so for the remainder of the show's run.[122] The program still airs on The Comedy Network after Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 12:37 a.m. The decision to move the program may have also been influenced by The Comedy Network not owning Canadian rights to Colbert's next program, The Late Show, which are currently held by Omni Television.

It airs on The Comedy Channel in Australia, Comedy Central in New Zealand, and on Maxxx in the Philippines. As of 2012, The Colbert Report has also been broadcast in Africa on DSTV's version of Comedy Central. It aired on FX in the United Kingdom until they decided not to renew their contract in May 2009.[123] The show also has a strong following in Ireland.[citation needed] In Portugal, it airs on Sic Radical.

Beginning June 3, 2008, The Colbert Report also aired on the ShowComedy channel of Showtime Arabia (Currently OSNComedy), a channel which broadcasts in the Middle East and North Africa.[124] The show is transmitted on a one-day delay from original transmission in the US.

Screenshot of international feed from Colbert Nation - Australian version, referring to constitutional basis for the country, and a national food Vegemite.

The show was shown during prime time on Australia's free-to-air ABC2 in 2010, however the channel was outbid for rights for 2011.[125][126] The show was available directly on the colbernation.com website for part of 2011, with Australian advertisements, however Australian access is now blocked.

Several international markets also air The Colbert Report Global Edition, which shows highlights from the previous week's shows and includes a special introduction by Stephen Colbert at the start of the program. This means a new or newly repackaged episode can be screened every weekday.

In addition most recent episodes (usually 3 weeks back) are available in full length on colbertnation.com. However some international audiences are unable to view the videos or episodes.

Related multimedia

DVD

A DVD of highlights from the first two seasons of The Colbert Report was released by Comedy Central on November 6, 2007. Entitled The Best of The Colbert Report, the three-hour disc contains two "The Wørd" segments (including "Truthiness" from the first episode and "Wikiality"), one "Threat Down", various "Better Know a District" segments (including Robert Wexler), and interviews with Bill O'Reilly, Willie Nelson, and Jane Fonda (also included is Fonda's appearance with Gloria Steinem in a segment called "Cooking with Feminists"), as well as the special segments "Green Screen Challenge", "Stephen Jr. – Flight of a Patriot", "Indecision 2006: Midterm Midtacular", and Colbert's "Meta-Free-Phor-All" with Sean Penn.[127][128][129] Best Buy sold the DVD with a bonus disc containing several animated Tek Jansen adventures.[130]

An hour-long Christmas special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! was released on DVD November 25, 2008.[131]

Music

Comedy Central released the complete soundtrack of A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, featuring songs by performers such as Feist, John Legend, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Jon Stewart, Elvis Costello, and Colbert himself. It was released exclusively through iTunes.

In June 2011, Jack White's record label Third Man Records released a 7" vinyl single of Stephen Colbert and The Black Belles performing "Charlene II (I'm Over You),"[132] which they also performed together on the show.[133]

I Am America (And So Can You!)

Referred to as a "pure extension" of the show in book form,[citation needed] I Am America (And So Can You!) was released on October 9, 2007. Written by Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report writers, the book covers Colbert's opinions on a wide array of topics not addressed on the show. Red margin notes appear throughout the book, providing reactions and counterpoints to Colbert's arguments in a style comparable to the Report '​s Wørd segment. The book draws some influence from and also parodies the literary endeavors of the character's pundit models, such as Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor (2000) and Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil (2005), which Colbert says he "forced" himself to read as a reference.[134]

I Am America (And So Can You!) was also released as a three-CD audiobook, narrated—or according to the cover, "shouted"—by the author.

I Am A Pole (And So Can You!)

In 2012, Colbert released a second book, this time a humorous children's book about a pole finding its place in the world.[135] The book was quite successful, reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list[136] but has attracted some controversy over whether its contents are actually suitable for children.[137]

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't

On September 25, 2012, Colbert released his third book, America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't.[138] This is a follow-up book to his earlier book I Am America (And So Can You!).[138]

See also

References

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