Stephen Colbert opened the second night of his “Late Show” tenure on Wednesday with a surprising admission: Tuesday’s premiere episode almost didn’t make it to the air.
Colbert acknowledged that Tuesday’s inaugural taping ran very long, more than two hours. And then it took producers a long time to cut the episode down to time — even with CBS granting the show an extra six minutes in running time beyond its standard 11:35 p.m. hourlong time slot.
By the time the edited episode was ready to be sent over to CBS, technical glitches kept “Late Show” producers from digitally delivering the show to the network.
“The computers kept crashing,” Colbert said. “At 11:20 (p.m.) no one in the building could give me any certainty that the show was going to go on the air last night.”
Colbert noted that his panic was compounded by the fact that CBS’ marketing blitz for his launch as the new “Late Show” host has left no stone unturned. The network “has plastered my face on every flat surface on the planet,” he joked.
But in the clutch, “Late Show’s” technical team managed to get the program file to the proper destination. Ever the consummate writer-performer, Colbert said that despite his mortal fear in the moment, he knew he could make comedic hay out of the situation no matter what happened.
“As I felt the oxygen begin to drain from my brain,” Colbert joked, he realized “this’ll be a pretty good story,” whether he lived to see a second night on the air or “at the theater camp I will be running in Idaho.”
The anecdote gave Colbert an opportunity to show a genuine earnestness to the audience at a time when he’s still introducing himself to viewers after years of playing the role of bombastic conservative commentator on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” The technical glitches certainly didn’t hurt the show’s ratings, either — the telecast easily outpaced Colbert’s competitors on ABC and NBC.
Colbert’s “Late Show” debut drew generally strong reviews although many noted that he displayed a visible nervousness at times. On Wednesday’s show, Colbert was clearly more comfortable delivering his monologue and in the first interview segment with actress Scarlett Johansson.