Stephen Colbert’s production team lives for live.
The long presidential election season may finally be coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean “The Late Show” host is taking a breather on hosting live broadcasts. Executive producer Chris Licht told IndieWire that Colbert’s late night chatfest will continue to go live when warranted.
“It is such a shot of energy when we do it,” Licht said. “It’s really hard but everyone loves doing it. I would say the bar is really low to go live. Because the machine is in place to do it.”
That “Late Show” machinery is in full gear this week, as Colbert and company are airing live shows on CBS this Monday and Wednesday, in addition to the live Election night Showtime special “Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going to Clean Up This Sh*t?”
Licht, who’s coming up on seven months at “The Late Show,” moved over from “CBS This Morning” and has plenty of experience in live news, which means there’s a comfort level in bringing Colbert live. He calls the live broadcasts the highlight of his tenure so far on the job.
The Monday show is the first time “The Late Show” will go live where there isn’t a big event that evening, such as the Super Bowl or the political conventions and debates, to ride off of. “We’re going live to maximize editorial to the very last minute because things are fast changing,” Licht said. “Going forward, if there’s a reason to do it, we’ll do it. We can do it at the drop of the hat.”
That could mean live editions of “The Late Show” after events such as the Grammy Awards, the State of the Union address or some other major event. “It’s really fun so we’ll look for opportunities,” Licht said.
As for the Showtime special, Licht said he jumped at the idea when Showtime suggested borrowing the CBS host for the night. (Showtime is owned by CBS.) “Stephen has been such a part of this election cycle that it was anti-climactic for him not to be on television on election night,” Licht said. “The ability to do this on Showtime is exciting for both sides. What I’m hoping for is, maybe people take a break from watching real news and come over at 11:00 and be able to see things perhaps reported in a way that you wish the news guys could. Maybe it will be a little cathartic for everybody.”
The special will include “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth” hosts Mark McKinnon, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann giving their take on the results. Also: Elle King will sit in with house band Jon Batiste and Stay Human, and Jeff Goldblum, Katy Perry, Larry Wilmore, Patton Oswalt, Nick Offerman, comedian Jena Friedman and radio personality Charlamagne Tha God will appear in faux commercials and other bits that are set to run throughout the hour.
Or “hour-ish,” as Licht said. “If there’s something extraordinary we can stay on longer,” he said. “But put it like this: If we’re not going to find who won until Alaska closes, it’s not like were going to stay on the air.”
Licht and executive producer Tom Purcell have planned three versions of the Tuesday night special, depending on where the results stand at 11 p.m. ET. “On election night, barring anything crazy, there really are three things that could happen,” Licht said. “Either it’s really tight and we don’t know who won, or we’ve learned that one or the other is going to win. And then what you do is during the live show, you move those modules around. Let’s say we find out that somebody won at 11:15. There are jokes to be written in the moment, but the basic structure is there.”
Licht knows that some viewers will eschew the traditional news outlets in order to get their election coverage from Colbert – and that’s OK. “If you look at Stephen’s comedy, it’s always fact based,” he said. “We have fact checkers on our show just for the premise of our jokes. It’s not that big of a stretch to be a source of information on election night. We’ll have the guys from ‘The Circus’ on, who will give as good of an analysis as anything you’ll find, as part of what we’re doing. Plus we’ll have the resources of CBS News as far as their results, the legitimacy of when CBS News is able to call something, we’ll be able to call something, which is great from a corporate synergy standpoint.”
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” hit its stride during the election season, drawing on Colbert’s strengths as a political satirist. What happens when the campaign is finally over?
“We really take our cue from America,” Licht said. “If politics continues to be the main topic of conversation, that’s what we’ll be talking about. We’re a topical show, not a political show. It’s not for us to have a game plan on, it’s to see how America reacts to what happened and what the path is going forward.”
“Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going To Clean Up This Sh*t?” will air live on Tuesday, November 8 at 11 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. PT on air, on demand and over the internet.