Chris Licht Interview: ‘Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ showrunner

“He has a gear that can fit whatever mode the country is at the time,” explains “Late Show” showrunner Chris Licht about host Stephen Colbert. In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), he adds, “If we need to be serious, he can be serious. If he needs to be goofy and sing and dance, he can do that. That’s gonna serve us in the long run to keep the show successful.  The show is not finding success because of Trump; it is finding success in a Donald Trump world. I think if this became an Elizabeth Warren world we would still be able to rise to the occasion.”

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” has received four Emmy nominations this year – Variety Talk Series, Variety Writing, Variety Directing and Interactive Program. The show has also consistently been winning the late-night ratings since Trump took office. However, in its first year the show struggled to come out on top and was snubbed by the Emmys. Licht thinks the show found its groove a little before the ratings and awards caught on. He believes it was when they covered the 2016 conventions with two weeks of live shows. He explains, “That really fixed processes and created sense of urgency. It cut down the amount of time it took to tape the show. That allowed us to be ready to receive something like a Trump presidency; where we had to be at the top of our game.”

The show has now done more than 20 live shows and this past season went live after the 2018 mid-terms and Democratic debates. Licht says, “Stephen walks on stage and delivers this monologue without having rehearsed it. In some cases, he hasn’t even seen the footage we’re reacting to. I don’t know another show that on such a consistent basis can pull off a monologue that is absolutely written from whole cloth an hour before we’re on air.”

Licht reveals that “a couple of live shows ago, a half hour beforehand the entire video server system crashed. We had no clips. We had to make cards for Stephen that he would read what the clip would have been. Then 15 minutes before we went out, the server came back. One thing about Stephen is if he can’t change it, he doesn’t out freak out. Freaking out was not going to get the system up any faster. People can freak out on his behalf. Stephen might have even said ‘I’ll act them out.’ But it’s the closest I’ve ever been to passing out.”

With a background in news, the producer was not accustomed to the sensibilities of a comedy show. He confesses, “I had no idea how you get a show like this on air. It was really exciting and completely frightening. However, it needed someone to come in and ask questions that people had not been asking. I learnt in news when something happens, you get it on television. Here something happens and if the jokes aren’t there you don’t do it.”

On knowing Colbert, the showrunner reflects, “He is as close to the person you see on TV as just about any talent I’ve worked with. What you see is what you get, particularly in the interviews. If he was having dinner with that guest it wouldn’t be very different. Something Stephen has really tapped into is being as authentic as possible on TV.”

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UPLOADED Aug 16, 2019 11:59 am