Stephen Colbert Prepping Multiple Scenarios (and Salty Language) for Showtime Election Special

'Late Show' showrunner Chris Licht previews the live telecast, his host's "sailor" mouth and discusses the evolution of the post-'Report' persona.
CBS

If there's a drawback to being one of the lucky few comedians with your own nightly broadcast gig, it's getting preempted on election night.

Tuesday's wall-to-wall news coverage on CBS almost left Late Show host Stephen Colbert out in the cold. Fortunately for him and the viewers who've gotten used to him as their source for political commentary since his Colbert Report, corporate synergy stepped in. Colbert will air for a full hour (or more), live, on Showtime to cover the climax of the presidential campaign he's so dutifully followed since his show's premiere.

Showrunner Chris Licht, who's been planning the big event and its accompanying live nights on CBS, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the Colbert viewers get on election night will be the same one they usually do  but all the comments about swearing and nudity on the uncensored net aren't just jokes. He also talked about planning for multiple outcomes and how, more than anything, he just wants to know the winner by 11 o'clock.

Is Stephen Colbert really holding back that much cursing on CBS?
He swears like a sailor. I think we will do some stuff, just to celebrate the fact that we can, but the core of the show will be the same brand of comedy you get on CBS. We just don't have to worry about a "s—" here or a "f—" there.

What about errant nudity?
There may be that. It's a little frightening, but the thing that the writers were most excited about was the different ways we could utilize full-frontal nudity.

How have you adjusted plans as the race seems to have narrowed quite a bit?
Tom Purcell and his creative team, along with Stephen, are really preparing three different shows. All of the elements in there are modular and can move around. That will be a lot of what I do, working with Tom in the moment to switch up the comedy based on what's happening. And we have some really funny pre-taped roll-ins that I think people will like with some surprise guests.

Can you go longer if the race isn't nearing resolution until midnight?
One of the scenarios is that we don't know. We do have some flexibility to go longer. Showtime is very much about living this moment together. If there's a reason to stay on a little longer, we will. But that's not our intention.

What was the original conversation that led to this?
It started with David Nevins calling to say that they really wanted to do something with Stephen around the election, but it didn't really go anywhere. Then, after the live convention shows, he circled back when I had just found out we'd be preempted on election night. And that was it.

Are you treating Tuesday's audience as one that could potentially be different than your own?
The audience for Showtime is similar to what we go for on CBS. They're a smart audience, so you feel like you don't have to change. The CBS show is a reflection of Stephen. It'd be difficult to change up just for a different platform. David and his team have a very similar sensibility to what we're trying to do. There's a little bit of shorthand because the cultures are very similar.

Do you look at this as a possibility to lure more new viewers to the CBS show?
I think any time you're able to put Stephen in front of people who maybe haven't sampled the show is a win. Whether it's digitally or a different platform, I'm a fan of just getting him in front of new eyeballs.

Everyone is wall-to-wall on Tuesday. Does that making booking guests difficult?
Most networks have news that night, but we're going after celebrities. I would say that the bigger challenge is that a lot of celebrities are doing things that night. The kind of guest you would want to have on, they're out at Camp Hillary, Trump Tower or whatever. We are lucky in that Showtime has The Circus, with Mark Halperin, John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon. They're going to be on, so we're covered with political analysis.

So you're well set?
Considering what we're asking people to do, which is come on a live election night entertainment show, we're in a good place. The night before and the night after, we're also on live, and that's been a cinch.

Stephen said in a recent interview that he feels he's finally found his voice. How would you describe his voice?
What you see on television is who he is, more than ever. And that is someone who has a smart point of view on topical events. I would never describe us as a political show. We're a topical show. But right now, politics is top of mind in society. He is so smart and well read, he has a definite point of view and a take on what's happening in the news. I think he's really hitting his stride when it comes to that.

Does your preferred outcome of this election as a showrunner match your preferred outcome as a voter?
My hope is that we know an answer. I only have one hat, and that is as a showrunner. I'll stop and think about it as a human being on Wednesday, but on Tuesday my hope is that we know something at 11 o'clock. It will just be more fun.

Last question. How much will you be sleeping between now and Tuesday?
More than at my old job! That's the one benefit of coming from a morning show. You're really never going to have a job where you sleep less.

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