Howard Stern said more than a year ago, when CBS first pinned its Late Night hopes on genius satirist Stephen Colbert, “I don’t know if that was the right choice for him.” Why, Stern wondered, would Colbert leave his plum spot at Comedy Central where he brilliantly skewered right wingnuttery, just to “interview an actress about her latest movie?” It’s a point that really resonates right now, as the GOP presidential selection process serves up a big bag of material for Colbert’s old show every day — but he’s not there.
In fact, if you go by the ratings, Colbert’s not anywhere. Anywhere being defined as among the top 3 late night personalities. Stern talked to a caller this week about Colbert being in 4th place in the ratings, a no-man’s land that shows him behind even Seth Meyers‘ NBC show. Meyers runs an hour later than Colbert but gets a huge boost from Jimmy Fallon‘s lead-in. Fallon is way out in front; Jimmy Kimmel is second. Stern, who knows how it works, says CBS will start to take away some of Colbert’s independence now and “start giving him notes.” Stern explained that getting “notes” from upper management — a la 30 Rock‘s Jack Donaghey — is a death knell for a creative entertainer. “It’ll drive [Colbert] nuts.” Stern revealed how when he got notes early in his career that management wanted him to quit in frustration. Colbert will get the same relentless meddling if he remains in 4th place, Stern predicted. Colbert won’t quit, but it’ll drain his creative juices — paradoxically the very thing he needs to pull him out of the cellar. Stern did not say “I told you so” about Colbert’s current condition, but his prediction looks spot-on so far.