PR pros take wait-and-see approach to Colbert's 'Late Show'

Entertainment sector communications experts aren't sure what to expect from Stephen Colbert's Late Show - though it's a good bet the program will be funny.

"Stephen Colbert 2014" by Montclair Film Festival
"Stephen Colbert 2014" by Montclair Film Festival

As Stephen Colbert’s debut hosting The Late Show draws near, many communications pros are wondering what kind of host will take the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater next month.

What’s certain is that Colbert’s uber-patriotic, faux Fox News host from The Colbert Report won’t be transitioning from Comedy Central to CBS.

"I felt I had done everything I could do with him other than have my honest interest in my guest," the host told The New York Times this week, adding, "Now I don’t have to hold back at all."

Colbert also told the Times that he’s "not interested" in late-night battles. The article made no mention of the two Jimmies’ – ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon – domination of the 11:30 EST time slot.

OK, so no character and no fierce rivalries. With that out of the way, entertainment industry communications experts tell PRWeek what they expect from a Colbert-hosted Late Show.  

"He’s really entering the most competitive late-night marketplace that I’ve seen in my career, when you’re talking about the appeal of Kimmel and the appeal of Fallon – those guys are really generating the numbers," says Dean Bender, principal of Bender/Helper Impact.

He notes that it’ll take a few weeks to "see how to best use our clients for booking that show," since it’s not known how Colbert will interact with his guests.

Other experts say seeing Colbert out of character will take some getting used to.

"Speaking for most viewers, we’re so used to seeing him playing a character," says Chris Brienza, SVP and head of Coyne’s New York office. "I don’t know what he’s really like."

He adds that while he believes Colbert could be "pretty darn good," there’s still a layer of mystery to the show.

Colbert is set to debut on what used to be David Letterman’s late-night spot on September 8. While he was a somewhat out-of-the-box choice to host the show, the format will remain familiar to viewers with about 15 guests per week.

Joe Quenqua, EVP and head of DKC’s entertainment practice, says via email that "Colbert’s humor will immediately separate him from the pack. There is no chance that he will be derivative of anyone else on the scene."

There are "great upsides" for those who have appeared on Kimmel or Fallon, he adds, not only for the late-night TV audience, but also for how often clips are shared online.  

"We as PR professionals have to recognize how to work with each one independently, how to target efforts to regenerate that appearance in subsequent days," says Quenqua.

And while the question of whether leaving behind his Report persona was the right move in terms of ratings and critical acclaim is yet to be answered, Quenqua calls the decision brave.

 "In a way, it’s as if we are being introduced to an entirely new late-night personality – with one heck of a launching pad," he adds.

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