What We Lose When We Lose “The Colbert Report”

What’s the latest in late-night? You’ve probably heard that Stephen Colbert, eponymous host of “The Colbert Report,” has inherited “The Late Show” from David Letterman. Letterman had announced earlier this month that he would be leaving the show, which he created and hosted for 21 years, sometime in 2015.

Congratulations are due for Colbert’s bump to the CBS show. Like most, I’m interested to see the man behind “The Colbert Report’s” sardonic character revealed. But frankly, Nation, I’m also concerned. There’s a tempest of disappointment, a hurricane of unhappiness descending on late-night political punditry with the loss of the “Report,” and it will force the genre to either adapt or die.

Shows like the “Report” and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” among others, have been our longtime news filters. Their critiques have been a constant crusade against cable news’ bullshit, between the stories that go untold to the ones that are needlessly inflated for ratings. They’ve been a launchpad for the savvy political reader and an informant for those without another news source. The “Report’s” cultural impact in particular has been enormous. Just remember Colbert for President 2008, the coining of “truthiness,” or the Colbert Super PAC—all insightful, educational, and clever. I mean, the man inspired a Ben & Jerry’s flavor, for Pete’s sake.

This is what we lose when we lose “The Colbert Report.” But that isn’t the limit to the tides beating down late-night punditry. Jon Stewart isn’t destined to stay on “The Daily Show” forever. His intentions have been clear since his 2013 hiatus to direct his documentary feature “Rosewater.” With the expected success of that film, Stewart will likely foray further into writing and directing, leaving his seat on “The Daily Show” without an heir apparent.

HBO may soon be the only place to find satirical news. Jon Oliver, who hosted during Stewart’s hiatus, has moved on to his own HBO show. His success there is yet to be determined, but moving to subscription cable will make his show less available to the average viewer (Hey, we can’t all steal our parents’ HBOgo). Bill Maher’s show is also only available on HBO.

You’ll notice that these examples are all liberal news comedy. I would give you an example from conservative news comedy if it existed, but despite the massive popularity of straight-news pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, the cons just haven’t had success with the comedy circuit. The reasons are highly debateable, but the future equally grim. And before your angry elephant takes a dump for the GOP in my backyard, ask yourself whether you really think Flipside with Michael Loftus has a fighting chance.

Sure, we’ll still have straight-up news pundits, but the accessibility and humor are lost with them. Basically it becomes an NBC vs. FOX free-for-all anyway, and that’s exactly the ridiculous bloodbath that keeps America picking sides on issues they’re not even being educated on. With humor, this has been the political comedian’s goal, but the space for that is fading.

With the end of “The Colbert Report,” we see the beginning of the end for late-night news satire. Does this signal an even greater political apathy from the American public? Perhaps. But it also leaves a door open for what the future holds. Will another pundit take up the crusade? We have until 2015 to find out, when the lights go out on “The Report.”

Image courtesy of MHimmelrich

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