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Colbert has uneven and somewhat disappointing premiere on "Late Show"


In all “truthiness” – to borrow a word invented by the cable version of Stephen Colbert – I was a little disappointed in his Tuesday premiere of CBS “Late Show.”

That probably says something about my high expectations.

The 70-minute premiere had an inventive start in which the former Comedy Central star sang the national anthem with everyday people at a variety of sites and concluded with Jon Stewart playing an umpire at a baseball game and saying “play ball!”

And it had a strong finish, starting with Colbert joining Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy and several other people on stage I had to look up singing “Everyday People” (“we got to live together”) and ending with Colbert joining his NBC competitor, Jimmy Fallon, at a late-night locker room after the closing credits.

Colbert also was smart and classy to effusively praise his predecessor, David Letterman, for his influence on comedy.

But too much of the stuff in between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning feel flat and made me wonder if it was more probable than not that first-time Colbert viewers drawn by the hype won’t be back tonight.

And they should return.

Colbert won opening night locally. The program had a decent but not overwhelming 4.5 rating on Channel 4, to Fallon’s 2.1 on Channel 2 and a 1.6 for Jimmy Kimmel on Channel 7.

It should be very interesting to see the second night’s results. One should judge a daily program – especially a late-night program -like a marathon and not a sprint.

Colbert got off to an uneven start, but the show will most likely improve as he gets less nervous, more comfortable and doesn’t try to stuff too much into a program.

He is an incredibly smart, likable and honest host (he even told guest Jeb Bush he had a “non-zero” chance to get his vote) and is easy to root for.

Without further ado, here are some of the comments I tweeted live during the premiere and an explanation after each that was impossible to give in 140 characters.

If I were a regular citizen, I probably would have gone to bed after the hummus bit

Explanation: Colbert essentially did a confusing and largely unfunny product placement commercial for a brand of hummus early in the program. I wasn’t positive it really was an ad until it was disclosed in the closing credits. I wouldn’t have made it that far if I wasn’t a critic.

I like Hydrox. Or used to when I could find them

This tweet followed a bit in which Colbert eat a pound of Oreos as he ran clips of Donald Trump that started with the presidential candidate saying silly things like he wouldn’t eat the cookies anymore because the company has moved some work to Mexico. Colbert was suggesting it meant Hydrox would be a winner. The bit had its moments, though it went a little too long. Like Trump.

Trump -- a nervous host's best friend on premiere night

The Trump reel put the show back on track because the candidate says a lot of unintentionally funny things.

The audience is so young that I doubt CBS would let me in the theater

I first thought this when Channel 4 ran a preview of the show on its 11 p.m. news and interviewed several young adults as they left the theater after the afternoon and early evening taping ended. The age of the crowd was confirmed when the cameras panned the crowd. That’s good news for CBS, which is hoping that Colbert will draw a much younger crowd than Letterman.

Clooney sort of is defusing a bomb

The gag concerned the fact that first guest George Clooney didn’t have anything to plug so the show had him act or overact in three scenes for a fake movie. In one scene, he defused a bomb. At the time, I thought Colbert was coming close to bombing himself. That was a bit unfair, the kind of snarky thing you say on Twitter. Clooney is normally a late night host’s dream. He also is one of my favorite actors. But I’ve seen him much funnier than he was on Tuesday.

I think you are in trouble if Jeb Bush has to save the show

That was my thought before the Republican presidential candidate came on. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

I really liked the pilot of "Limitless." CBS is heavily promoting it

This is my shameless plug. My preview of the new broadcast TV season is Sunday. “Limitless,” which is based on the movie that starred Bradley Cooper, is one of my few favorites.

As Trump would say, Jeb is low energy even when he tries to be high energy

I was low energy by the time Jeb appeared and clearly was trying to be animated.

"Jeb connotes excitement" says Jeb. Funniest line of the night

That comment from the candidate came after Colbert asked him about his decision to just be known as Jeb in posters and ad campaigns rather than include his last name.

If you can get laughs with Jeb there is hope after all

The Bush interview actually exceeded expectations, with Colbert in his comfort zone as an interviewer and getting in a few clever lines and the candidate playing along.

I get the feeling it was a lot more fun being there than watching on TV. Bet Stephen even agrees

That conclusion came from watching the Channel 4 story on the 11 p.m. news. Colbert clearly connotted excitement for the fans leaving the Ed Sullivan Theater. I was less excited about the premiere than I am about eating hummus. But I saw enough decent stuff after most people went to bed to make me believe there will much better days and nights ahead.


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