Why It Matters That Stephen Colbert, CBS Company Man, Made Time for the Leslie Moonves Allegations

It would have been understandable — though uncomfortable — if Stephen Colbert had ignored the newly surfaced allegations of sexual misconduct against Les Moonves, the CBS CEO responsible for him sitting at the “Late Show” desk in the first place. But in a twist, Colbert steered right into the skid. He brought up the allegations with pointed monologue jokes (“How do you get in a Ronan Farrow article? Practice, practice, practice”), but also in a separate desk piece that rather somberly acknowledged his particularly weird position and the fact that if he wants to support the #MeToo movement as he’s long insisted he does, he can’t make an exception for anyone — not even his own boss.

Even though most everyone in Hollywood is quick to say that they support victims, watching Colbert be so upfront about Moonves just a couple days after the allegations broke is something of a shock. After all, Moonves’ wife and “The Talk” host Julie Chen only briefly mentioned the story in order to dismiss it, while “Late Late Show” host James Corden took a jaunty hop, skip, and a jump right around it. What Colbert did was much trickier, considerate, and fascinating to watch unfold.

Not only is Moonves Colbert’s boss, but as more and more Hollywood power players have been accused of workplace abuse, late-night hosts have grappled with varying success to adjust their punchlines to address news that keeps encroaching on their own turf, as more and more TV writers, comedians, and executives get called out. Sometimes, they expand on pithy monologue punchlines with deeper dives (see: Seth Meyers’ “Closer Look” segment on Weinstein and industry abuse, Samantha Bee calling out sexism within the comedy community after the Louis CK story dropped). Other times, they reason that it’s an inside baseball industry story and it might not be worth it to catch their audience up (“Saturday Night Live” reportedly punted Harvey Weinstein jokes by initially dismissing it “a New York thing”).

Colbert did something a little different. He put the story into the larger context of #MeToo coming up on its first anniversary, what it means to actually support it, and how the deluge of allegations that has made some people suspicious is a natural response to so many years of silence. He pointed out that the CBS board decided not to suspend Moonves amidst an outside investigation, then cracked jokes about CBS possibly turning the lights off on the show during the commercial break. And maybe most crucially, Colbert made the point that someone like Moonves can be supportive to one person (like him) and potentially abusive to another (like one of the accusers).

By virtue of having to react to breaking news most nights a week, late night comedians tend to get more notice than most of their peers. And as the worlds of pop culture and politics continue to bleed in to each other at an increasingly rapid clip, late night comedians’ increasingly somber words have been granted more weight whether they like it or not. Colbert, who has delivered topical content from behind a desk almost every night for well over a decade, knows this all too well — and this time, he chose to use that position to explicitly call out one of his own allies.

“Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy,” he said, “and make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy.”

Colbert’s viewpoint certainly might change as the story itself evolves, as is his right. But for now, acknowledging the story as publicly and bluntly as he did meant acknowledging its significance for him, his workplace, and beyond. For a self-professed company man, that’s no small feat.

More TV

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the series

    Fox Sees Primetime, Sports Ad Gains As TV Upfront Wraps

    Fox Corporation is the latest to benefit from stronger-than-expected trends in TV ad spending, as the company notched strong gains in advertising commitments for its next cycle of programming – its first since selling off a large chunk of its media assets to Walt Disney. Ad demand was stronger than many executives anticipated, according to [...]

  • Charles Levin Obit

    Missing 'Seinfeld' Actor Charles Levin's Body Believed to be Found

    Oregon authorities believe they have found the body of the missing “Seinfeld” actor Charles Levin. He was 70 years old. According to Associated Press, Levin’s son reported the actor missing from Grants Pass on July 8. On July 12, search and rescue teams determined a search area in a remote area northeast of Selma with [...]

  • Oliver Jackson-Cohen Invisible Man

    ‘Haunting of Hill House’ Star Oliver Jackson-Cohen Returning for ‘Haunting of Bly Manor’

    Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who was recently cast as the titular character in the upcoming Blumhouse-Universal Pictures feature “The Invisible Man,” is set to haunt viewers once more on Netflix. Jackson-Cohen, who starred in “The Haunting of Hill House,” will return to star in the second installment of the Netflix anthology series, titled “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” [...]

  • Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

    Amazon to Develop 'Jack Reacher' Series

    Watch out Tom Cruise, there’s going to be another Jack Reacher in town. In a competitive situation, Amazon has won the rights to develop a series based on the protagonist from Lee Child’s novels. The series hails from “Scorpion” creator Nick Santora, who will write, showrun and executive produce. Child’s “Jack Reacher” series has sold over [...]

  • Fox News Media Taps Jason Klarman

    Fox News Media Taps Jason Klarman as Executive VP, Marketing

    Jason Klarman, a veteran TV executive who has served stints at NBCUniversal and Fullscreen Media, has been named executive vice president of Fox Corporation’s Fox News Media, and will supervise brand strategy for Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and other assets that are part of the division. Klarman will report to Suzanne Scott, CEO [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content