Stephen Colbert Talks Candidly About The Early Struggles With His Late Night Show

stephen Colbert

Starting out in late night can be a difficult adjustment for a lot of hosts. Finding ways to differentiate yourself from other late night hosts while also honing skills like interviews and monologues can be a hard task for many newbie late night hosts, and for Stephen Colbert it was no exception. At Paleyfest this year The Late Show host talked about his troubles early on and how he felt after he got to the point where things were coming up Colbert.

It wasn’t easy for Stephen Colbert when he took over The Late Show. Not only was he expected to fill a big pair of shoes, as veteran and icon David Letterman had been the previous host of the late night show on CBS for many years, he also had to do this with no experience on network television.

It took a while to gain an audience, and Stephen Colbert said his biggest worry was that people wouldn’t come back once he had figured out what the tone of his version of The Late Show would be about six months in. He said:

My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t come back and notice, they wouldn’t see that I had finally found what I wanted the show to be. Those first six months felt terrible because you’re having to reinvent a new way to do the show, I had never my entire life done anything as myself, I had always done something in character, I was an actor.

Running The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was a different beast than running The Colbert Report, namely because Stephen Colbert had always “done something in character” during his time on Comedy Central. At first, during his CBS gig he tried to be more buttoned up and serious and then he briefly took more of the Jimmy Fallonlet’s have fun” route before figuring out his tone. He said these days he mainly wants the people watching at home "to feel like they're not alone."

At Paleyfest (via Variety), he said that his new job only clicked after a producer finally came up to him and gave him the following advice:

Why don’t you just do what you’re really good at, which is talking about what happened today?

The advice worked, and Stephen Colbert went on to be competitive in the ratings. So far in 2019, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has consistently had higher viewership than The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Although, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out The Tonight Show has won the ratings in the 18-49 demographic throughout 2019 so far.

Still, winning in overall viewers isn’t something to shake your head at, but it was a long hard haul for Stephen Colbert and his Late Show staff to get to that point. In fact, Colbert also admitted at Paleyfest that after he took the gig on CBS he had to figure out how to do an entirely new job than he was used to.

It was the first time I had to be me, I didn’t know if I could do that, so I had to learn to do something I’d never done before with a camera in front of me, on live television, in front of a massive audience.

Alls well that ends well. Or, at least in this case, alls well that ends in beating Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC. The third late night show consistently gets third in the timeslot, losing in both total viewers and the 18-49 demographic, but all things considered, the numbers are still fairly close.

Be sure to catch Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel at 11:35 p.m. ET on weeknights.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.