Despite Stephen Colbert solidly kicking Jimmy Fallon to the curb in the ratings week after week, his Late Show tenure didn’t begin as fortuitous, as it took more than a year for him to settle into a groove that both viewers and CBS executives appreciated. However, as Colbert is now admitting in a Paleyfest interview, the less-than-smooth transition from The Colbert Report to The Late Show took a great toll on his psyche, knowing he still hadn’t worked out the best ways to creatively retool the show’s format from David Letterman’s reign — and this was all happening while Colbert was well into his tenure as host.
“My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t come back and notice, they wouldn’t see that I had finally found what I wanted the show to be,” Colbert said, according to Variety. “Those first six months felt terrible because you’re having to reinvent a new way to do the show, I had never my entire life done anything as myself, I had always done something in character, I was an actor. It was the first time I had to be me, I didn’t know if I could do that, so I had to learn to do something I’d never done before with a camera in front of me, on live television, in front of a massive audience.”
A defining moment of change, Colbert recalled, occurred when a producer told him to “do what you’re really good at, which is talking about what happened today,” when Colbert was freaking out about the show’s balance of comedy and politics. What ensued was a creative evolution that brought forth some of the most topical comedy and commentary in late-night history. And presidential bashing. A whole lot of presidential bashing.