Stephen Colbert Finds an ‘Elusive Groove’ – The New York Times

John Koblin of NYT has written the kind of article we true fans all hoped we’d see: one lauding the success of The Late Show, and its finally unseating Jimmy Fallon out of his quasi-permanent first place position in ratings.

The turning point, said executive producer Chris Licht, was election night, when Stephen was forced to go off script and speak memorably from the heart:

On Nov. 8, Stephen Colbert was hosting a live election night special for CBS’s sister cable network, Showtime. A program that was built around an expected Hillary Clinton victory went off the rails almost as soon as it went on the air at 11 p.m. As election returns came in, audience members, who had been asked to shut off their phones an hour earlier, gasped as it became clear that Donald J. Trump could very well become president. Mr. Colbert looked dumbstruck.

Sensing the gravity of the moment, Chris Licht, the executive producer of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” walked over to Mr. Colbert’s desk during a musical performance.

“Stop being funny and go and just be real,” Mr. Licht told the host.

What followed was what Mr. Licht described in a recent interview as the turning point for Mr. Colbert, who had struggled to gain his footing on CBS after shedding the pompous-pundit character that made him famous on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

“I think it’s when he became himself,” he said.

The path to the Late Show’s revamp began with the hiring of Licht, a decision encouraged by CBS chief executive, Les Moonves.

For its first six months, “The Late Show,” which debuted in September 2015, was adrift. Mr. Moonves was concerned enough to express his frustrations to Mr. Colbert over dinner at the 21 Club in Manhattan, shortly after a live edition of the show fizzled despite a prime spot immediately after the Super Bowl in February 2016.

Chief among Mr. Moonves’s concerns was how uncomfortable Mr. Colbert looked on a big stage. He thought the host was worrying over too many trivial details, from the stage lighting down to the color of the dressing rooms.

“On the old show, all of us handled all those responsibilities,” Mr. Colbert said, acknowledging that the CBS show was a much bigger undertaking. “And I’m a control freak, and everything — everything — went through my skull.”

Within weeks, Mr. Colbert conceded that a change had to be made. And Mr. Moonves turned to Mr. Licht, an executive producer who had been a career newsman.

“I set up a blind date, and I held my breath,” Mr. Moonves said.

When Mr. Moonves approached him about Mr. Colbert, Mr. Licht said he didn’t watch the show; he quickly burned through several episodes.

“My cleareyed scouting report was: ‘This is all over the place. This doesn’t seem cohesive, which suggests to me that behind the scenes, it’s chaotic,’” Mr. Licht said.

Then he and Mr. Colbert sat down for a three-hour drink. They hit it off instantly.

“The deal was, he said, ‘Listen, let me make these decisions and don’t try to take them back from me,’” Mr. Colbert remembered. “And I said, ‘O.K., well, don’t debate with me what’s funny.’”

With Licht calling the shots on the day-to-day production, Stephen could focus on the task at hand, getting down to the business of being funny, and unfettered. In sharpening his tongue and taking a firm stance against Trump, he distinguished himself from the affable, apolitical Jimmy Fallon, and this created room for himself as host and the show as well to grow.

The best bit of news from this article is that Stephen indicates with all the positive growth and the show’s success, he feels more comfortable than ever with his audience.

Two weeks into Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Colbert beat Mr. Fallon for the first time. Beyond the political moment, however, Mr. Colbert said he felt more comfortable on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage than ever before.

“I always had to keep a certain amount of distance as the character,” he said of his time at Comedy Central. “I always had to be a little of a facsimile of me that they were getting — obviously because I was playing somebody named me who wasn’t me, but even on top of that there was a little bit more of a distance from the audience.”

Mr. Colbert runs out onto the stage every night these days, and high-fives audience members in the front row. A cameraman circles around him, and Mr. Colbert looks directly into the lenses and says, “Hey.” Mr. Licht said Mr. Colbert had started doing that on his own just about three months ago, a brief, intimate moment between the host and the viewer, watching at home, right before bed.

“I’m so much more comfortable on my feet now,” Mr. Colbert said. “I’m a quicker and better writer. I am more comfortable being myself in front of an audience. I like this new relationship with the audience.”

Full Article: The New York Times