Stephen Colbert premiered his highly anticipated “Late Show” on CBS Tuesday night with appearances by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and Hollywood icon George Clooney, proving he could get the big names that late-night shows are built on. But did he get the big laughs required to stay on the air? Hours after the first "Late Show" broadcast since former host David Letterman's retirement, reviewers found Colbert's debut flawed but with hints of promise.
“Tonight, Stephen Colbert picked his instrument back up, and with it he made a joyful sound. A joyful, weird, distinctly Stephen Colbert-like sound,” the A.V. Club wrote. “After retiring the ‘Stephen Colbert’ persona, the real Stephen Colbert retains his alter ego’s energy, cadence and ability to pull a power play on a celebrity guest.”
The New York Times offered Colbert a mixed review. "The amped-up, expansive premiere of 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' was not so tightly focused," the paper wrote. "Befitting the difference between a niche cable half-hour and a network variety hour, it was not a rigidly composed plate but a groaning board, built less around a concept than around a vibe of smart fun and an urge to show off its host’s many skills." However, the review also noted that the premiere episode suggested "that Mr. Colbert could be as sharp and acerbic about the conventions of late night as he had been about cable news punditry."
The Los Angeles Times was a happy viewer. "It was good, it was very, very good," the review said.
"There were a few small glitches and creaks, I will admit in the name of critical scrupulousness and credibility, but you don't leave a great party complaining about a crack in the bowl the potato chips were in. It started strong, ended strong, and in between it was mostly ... strong."
The NYT review of Colbert is spot-on in both its praise and criticism: http://t.co/0GFwhR0Fjm
— Scott Smith (@ourmaninchicago) September 9, 2015
People Magazine found Colbert's debut had both high and low moments. "Colbert didn't reinvent the talk show in the course of a single hour – his opening monologue wasn't terribly interesting, but no opening monologue is," the magazine noted, before concluding, "Letterman has said he wasn't consulted about his replacement, but Colbert seems likely to have been the right choice."
USA Today wrote that Colbert needed to calm his nerves in future episodes. "As you might expect, given the stakes and the hype, he seemed a bit over-caffeinated. But calm will almost certainly come with time," the reviewer wrote. USA Today also had harsh words for Colbert's interview skills: "Blame nerves or excess adrenaline, but for whatever reason, Colbert's chat with Clooney felt oddly stilted, with uncertain transitions from serious topics to prearranged comedy.
Mashable also found Colbert's interview segment lacking. “His chat with George Clooney felt rather aimless,” observed Mashable.
TV Review: ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ http://t.co/8nzKEJ3K3j
— Variety (@Variety) September 9, 2015
Billboard was ready to tune in regularly. "Not surprisingly, this first night seemed like an amalgamation of every piece of Colbert -- from pre-'Daily Show' TV stuff all the way through post-'Colbert Report' weirdness that he exhibited online while touting his new CBS series over the summer. There were some nerves -- how could there not be? -- and there were plenty of flashes of the wickedly smart and super-fast comedic intellect he’s honed over the years. Did it all work? Of course not. But what I liked most was the feeling that Colbert was going to reveal a side of himself that he didn’t get to show much on the 'Colbert Report' or even 'The Daily Show' — a side that was much more reflective of his days on 'Strangers With Candy' or even 'The Dana Carvey Show.'"
In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer had high praise for Colbert, describing his "Late Show" debut as "pretty funny" and noting, "Almost everything Colbert and his team prepared for the opening show worked to one degree or another. There were no stinkers ... The show was gag-packed. There was hardly room to come up for air between the bits." The reviewer concluded: "In the end Colbert came out successfully swinging for the fences in his debut. The question is always whether or not he can keep up his opening-night batting average."