Review: Stephen Colbert’s Super Bowl Episode Squanders Big-Game Showcase

Stephen Colbert Super Bowl show
Courtesy of CBS


CBS loves running image-building spots – as it did during the Super Bowl – touting how the network is No. 1 in various categories. Late night, alas, doesn’t fall into that column, which likely explains why the network took the unprecedented step of using the big game to showcase “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” the best, but far from most watched, entry in the crowded late-night race. Still, Sunday’s live episode felt mostly like a wasted opportunity – one that probably won’t win many converts among those football fans sober enough to stick around.

Although the network sought to engineer a handoff directly from the extended post-game show to Colbert, by then plenty of air had been let out of the ball. And while there was some energy in the opening sequence – which worked in President Obama (pre-taped) and astronaut Scott Kelly, the show appeared trapped between trying to do all it could to maximize the live/football connection and simply delivering a star-heavy episode.

As a result, Colbert had to somewhat awkwardly interrupt his not-particularly-riveting chat with Tina Fey and Margot Robbie, there to plug the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” to conduct a satellite interview with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Nor did it help that the segment was mediated by CBS Sports play-by-play guy Jim Nantz, perhaps the least-funny person on the network’s payroll.

Then again, the guest lineup felt pretty uninspired overall in light of the circumstances, including the aforementioned duo, Will Ferrell, and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who Colbert introduced as “Donald Trump’s Kryptonite.”

In addition to squeezing in too much, given all the football-related shenanigans, Ferrell’s extended “Wild Kingdom” spoof largely shanghaied the show and dragged on way too long. The same could be said for a taped piece about football celebrations featuring Comedy Central’s Key and Peele, which also felt like a rather thinly veiled excuse to have them on in order to plug their new movie.

For CBS, it has to be a trifle irritating to have seen the initial enthusiasm and goodwill Colbert generated largely evaporate ratings-wise, leaving him well behind NBC’s inferior “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” That said, “Late Show” is doing well enough, and the network can derive some satisfaction from having a host who seems able to credibly pivot to more serious topics and guests – some of his interviews with presidential candidates have been substantive and first-rate – in a way that looks beyond Fallon’s lighter-than-air grasp.

The best portion of Sunday’s episode, in fact, fell into that category, with Colbert engaging Kelly in a too-brief discussion near the very end about her definition of feminism. Given some of the filler that occupied the hour, it was too bad by then they had run out of time.

Colbert’s conventional celebrity interviews, by contrast, tend to be a mixed bag. Perhaps not surprisingly, his strength remains the time he spends behind the desk after his monologue – the part of the show that most closely resembles his previous stint at Comedy Central.

At least on the major networks, Stephen Colbert can lay claim to the title of the smartest show in late night, which, as his predecessor David Letterman and plenty of high school kids have discovered, seldom translates into being the most popular. Still, if CBS was hoping to give him the equivalent of a Super Bowl bump, the bottom line is that Sunday’s less-than-super live edition won’t do much to help the cause.

Note: This has been updated to correct the name of astronaut Scott Kelly, who was misidentified as his brother, Mark.

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  1. wjmontiel says:

    Something tells me there’s not enough joy in the Variety offices…

  2. Doug Laurent says:

    I can’t imagine a better late night host than Stephen Colbert. Hopefully the people at CBS know that for credibility and selling ads, more important than how many people watch a show, is how many smart people watch a show.

  3. Jeff Barge says:

    Dr. Bombay, Dr. Bombay — come right away!

  4. Movie Maiden says:

    Colbert is a liberal agenda driven BORE.

  5. homosezwut says:

    Finally an accurate review of this show by Brian Lowry after the unfairly glowing review upon the launch. This is the same badly done show now as it was then with the one bright spot still being SC’s intellectual strength when engaging politicians and interesting people with pseudo celebrity appeal.

    The direction & editing are so clunky, the jokes are so labored & less than funny, and the music is so annoying( can someone please also turn Jon Batiste’s mic off during the monologue ).

    This show lost me after the first week, but I come back when the Jimmy’s have reruns & I keep seeing the same things that drove me away the first time.

    I like SC & I have nothing against JB & Stay Human, but CBS should do what they do best with their News division and retool this show to claim the space on broadcast tv that The Daily Show made on cable tv now being filled by other Daily Show alum’s like SC via John Oliver & Larry Wilmore.

    With such transformations going on in media & technology, we don’t need another old stand up monologue >to sit down scripted spot >to boring celebrity interviews >to music performance closer.

    The Jimmy’s got that format with a twist on lock, so why flail around for 3rd place doing a bad version of the old format CBS? Bring in some of your award winning news producers, editors & sitcom showrunners and create a new paradigm for late night broadcast tv that has been so successful on cable. Put SC in a position to do what he does best & scrap the rest.

    CBS news can then cut to clips all day long featuring timely clips from the new format during this unprecedented Presidential campaign year. You will have to wait 4yrs to have this opportunity again.

    I would love to see SC showing up on news programs giving commentary as a political observer with undisputed pop culture knowledge and quick wit i addition to his nightly showcase. – JMO #wut

  6. 3 choices at night and maybe they are all losers, (Conan is a still born). Fallon if you need to learn to fake laugh, Colbert if you want to brush up on being a dick, and Kimmel when being terminally boring isn’t enough.

  7. Miguel says:

    Why is this guy still on? Half of his potential audience was gone by week three. Get the hook.

  8. Wish I was 14 again so I would think this guy’s funny.

  9. Eric says:

    Fallon is much funnier than Colbert whether the author of this piece of trash likes it or not

  10. Jay! says:

    I only had it on for the hour until The Venture Bros. started on Adult Swim. Spent that hour on social media.



  11. Scott says:

    Stephen Colbert was awesome last night. It is like anything else in America – you could give 10 people $20 and a couple would complain because they wanted $30. Solid, solid show!!

  12. Shari says:

    As a HUGE Colbert fan I have to agree. This wasn’t the best show and they certainly didn’t take advantage of the biggest lead in they could get.
    While Tina Fey is mainstream and a huge draw, having her there with another person to plug a movie was boring and had nothing to do with football. I was hoping this show would be themed.
    I must say that sometimes I find Stephen a little smug with certain guests and it comes off awkward. The Bill Maher and Joel Osteen episodes come to mind.

    • kagey says:

      He is so busy promoting himself and interrupting that Colbert often seems to forget to listen to the answers guests provide to his occasionally good questions.
      We’ve tired of him, he’s been deleted from our list.

  13. Why did he have Megyn Kelly as a guest? She’s on 7 days a week on Fox News.

    Colbert biggest problem is his a huge liberal, which is fine if you want to appeal to less than half of America. Fallon appeals to all of America. Colbert is done after his contract is up.

    The British guy after him on the Late, Late Show will replace him. He’s getting 50 million views on YouTube pretty constantly. Colbert hasn’t gone viral even once. He’s old news.

  14. ... says:

    Discussions of redefining feminism don’t exactly scream “post-Super Bowl show,” either. The only late night show that I think could do well in this situation is Fallon.

    • Shari says:

      You are saying that less than half of America are liberal then how did Obama get elected by more than half? LOL

    • Stacey K says:

      I think the best late night host at following a huge sporting event is Jimmy KIMMEL, much better than Fallon could ever do. Fallon appeals more to the non-sports crowd.

      • TVAddict says:

        I completely agree! Jimmy Kimmel appeals more to the sports crowd, & has done several post game shows (& post award shows) in the past, quite well. (Basketball, Football, etc.) Jimmy Fallon is great too, but he appeals to most all, without a niche segment. Both men would have been better choices, but alas, it was on CBS. While in that subject, Letterman was a huge sports fan, & his show would have done WAY better.
        Don’t get me wrong, I like Colbert, but that show was literally painful to watch. They seemed to have no clue what they were doing, & that whole thing with asking over & over if it was time to go to the live segment, then breaking away mid interview, was awful. If I was Tina Fey (& Margot too) I’d of been pissed. It should have been 90% Football/Super Bowl themed. (Though the opening bit with the football was ok….just ok though)
        Sad show for a pretty funny guy. I blame the CBS suits, & producers/writers at the show. Put the game back on ABC & let Kimnel do his post game shows, with “actual athlete guests”!

  15. Reader says:

    Love Colbert but the post-game show was a dud.

    • Reader says:

      And, not to be unkind, but would somebody tell band leader Jon Batiste to just sit down and stop jumping around all over the place? Paul Shaffer never needed to be the center of attraction. Batiste is a talented musician…and some of the jazzy interludes are great…but honestly, ask him to go easy on the caffeine. Thanks.

  16. Jacques Strappe says:


  17. John Miller says:

    I personally wasn’t willing to sit through heaven-knows-how-much-post-game coverage to get to Colbert.

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