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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stephen Colbert in His CBS Debut Reminiscent of Dick Cavett and Jack Paar

I don't usually review late-night talk shows - actually, never have - but there's a first time for everything, and I thought Stephen Colbert's debut on CBS Late Show last night was a good time to begin.

In a phrase, I thought Colbert, divested of his incisive and hilarious conservative caricature from his previous show, was just as brilliant last night, and as funny and politically relevant in his own persona (assuming that's what we saw last night).

The interview with Jeb Bush was probably the highlight of the hour.   Colbert peppered Jeb with hard-hitting questions, and managed to be funny at the same time.  The last late-night host who had this kind of intellectual gravitas wrapped in a smile was Dick Cavett, and before him, Jack Paar.

It's not that everyone from Carson through Letterman and even Fallon right now weren't and aren't sharp as tacks intellectually.  It's just that Colbert last night mixed it with a perfect lightness, a quickness, that we haven't seen on late-night television for a while.

It was a good session for Jeb, too, who seemed a little nervous at first, but came back with a series of good and good-humored responses.   It will be interesting to see if this gives him a lift in the polls, and how he compares with Donald Trump, who will be on Colbert's show later this week.

There was also a winning meta quality weaved into the show, with George Clooney and Colbert talking about and showing clips from a non-existent movie, and Colbert having two interactions with Jimmy Fallon.    That would have been unimaginable in Cavett's or Paar's time - and, for that matter, in Carson's or even Letterman's (unless I missed it in Letterman) - but Colbert, if this first show is an indication, represents a nice step forward in late-night television, even as he reclaims an intellectual terrain not seen since the 1960s.

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