This article is about Stephen Colbert, but first, we need to discuss one of my very favorite musical comedians, a man who, in my opinion, ranks in the upper echelons of the genre, not far from Weird Al Yankovic himself: Reggie Watts, an incredibly skilled one-man band who, using loops and delays and an astounding range of talents, can put together songs that aren’t only funny, but are also musically engaging and brilliant on a dozen different levels at once.
Back in December of 2014, it was announced that Reggie Watts would be booked as the “band leader” on The Late Late Show, the CBS show hosted by James Corden which directly follows what will, tonight, be The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. If you’ve never seen an episode of the show, you’re probably thinking they’d utilize Reggie Watts’ full range of skills and capitalize on his ingenuity. I mean, after all, that’s the only reason you would hire him, right? That’s what I thought, too. I was wrong.
Instead, CBS has given Reggie Watts a band that he doesn’t need, stripped him of all of his looping gear, and left him firing off campy, TV-friendly one-liners with Corden, literally exactly like every other “band leader” on television. The network found a way to completely neutralize everything magical and poignant about Reggie Watts and reduce him to yet another Paul Shaffer clone, a clone the world absolutely does not need.
My biggest fear coming into Colbert’s Late Show premier? CBS is going to do to Stephen Colbert what they did to Reggie Watts. And regardless of Stephen’s immense talent and the vastness of the Colbert Nation’s influence on ratings, I’m still dialing back my expectations for tonight’s show while my brain pleads its case to my heart.
CBS is to television what Electronic Arts is to video gaming. Of course they’re capable of greatness, but 99% of what they produce is best described as hot, soggy garbage. They take one noble idea with proven results, regurgitate it into a different bag, sprinkle it with some paprika (which they feel is ingenuity or, in the case of EA, new features), and call it entertainment. And when that goes stale, they vomit into a different bag, try a new spice, and give it another go. The only thing sadder than their lack of creativity and their refusal to take risks is that they somehow find an audience of equally uncreative viewers. And it’s disheartening to see just how big that audience is.
There’s still hope within me that Stephen Colbert’s premier will be amazing. That he’ll find a way to burst through the wall of repressive noise from CBS’s untalented, uncreative corporate suits and bring something truly unique and special to the otherwise-spiritless late night TV genre. If anyone can stay innovative after a move to CBS, it’s Stephen Colbert. But I’m still trying my best to keep my expectations low. Because after all, that’s exactly what I said about Reggie Watts.