Stephen Colbert isn’t afraid of change.
Viewers who tune in regularly to CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” may have noticed something different about Monday night’s program. Yes, the host still came on and delivered jokes and made the usual nod to his bandleader, Jon Batiste, and his band, Stay Human. But the show opened with the video introduction that typically comes after Colbert has run out on stage and made a few jokes. The opening segments seemed quicker and tighter. And the host teased what he called an “exclusive” interview in a restaurant with Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during which they discussed the merits of cheesecake.
Why, it almost seemed as if someone had imposed the discipline of a morning-news show on the late-night host.
Indeed, that is what is taking place. Colbert’s broadcast this evening was his program’s first under a new showrunner, Chris Licht, a former CBS News vice president who had been executive producer of “CBS This Morning.” CBS last week named Licht to be the new executive producer of the show, which, after an exhaustive launch effort last fall, has struggled in a ratings battle with ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and lags behind NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
CBS wants its “Late Show” to offer viewers something different from Fallon’s celebrity games and Kimmel’s rough-and-tumble humor. Colbert is supposed to tackle the news of the day, and has done so during his launch period, gaining interviews with everyone from Clinton to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Licht has seen his fortunes rise at CBS by launching a morning program that eschews the cooking segments and social-media pow-wows that are a staple of rival programs in favor of a harder focus on news. To be sure, “CBS This Morning” lags both ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the nation’s most watched morning-news program and NBC’s “Today,” watched by more of the viewers coveted by advertisers, but it has made ratings gains where the other two have not.
Licht takes over a program that has been run by longtime Colbert confidants. As Monday’s “Late Show” opening suggested, the crew may be testing new ideas over the next few weeks in order to help the show gain new footing.