Tonight, an experiment of sorts will take place in front of an audience of millions. Stephen Colbert, the former star of The Colbert Report, will premiere his new gig as the late night talk show host on CBS, replacing David Letterman.
I’m not a big late night TV watcher, but this experiment fascinates me. Colbert has only been known to mainstream audiences playing a character, a satire of an inane conservative talk show host with a chipper flair and failing logic. We have never seen Colbert the person.
Tonight might be like Porky Pig reverting to his real voice and manner without the stutter. A person we’ve never seen before will step onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York, one that may counter-act what we’ve seen from Colbert before.
The fascination with Stephen Colbert.
This is why this fascinates me. How easily or difficult will it be for audiences to accept the real Colbert when the fake one has resonated with so many people?
It is, in my industry’s terms, a personality rebrand.
There are factors in Colbert’s favor. He is obviously a talented, intelligent and unique performer. You can glean that much from his Comedy Central show and the series of interviews he’s had with The New York Times and other media outlets in recent days.
He comes across as engaging, smart and funny – the perfect combination for a late-nigh talk show host.
Also, the audience for the Late Show will be bigger than the ones he enjoyed on Comedy Central. For many, this will be a first introduction to him.
To make a rebrand work, whether we’re talking about a TV personality or a company, you must align yourself with the most emotionally intensive trigger that captivates your audience and makes it prefer you.
That is, for Colbert to keep his current fan base while in a state of change and attract new fans, he must represent something that is more important than what he presented before.
That process, of which final judgment may not be for weeks or even months, will be fascinating to watch.