Throwback Thursday: In 1999, Stephen Colbert Went Back to High School

Strangers_With_Candy_Stephen_Colbert - H 2014
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Strangers_With_Candy_Stephen_Colbert - H 2014

The late-night host — whose 'Colbert Report' ends its run Thursday before he takes over 'Late Show' next year — co-created and co-starred in 'Strangers With Candy' 15 years ago: "He came up with the most twisted stuff," says co-creator Paul Dinello

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Stephen Colbert's last go-round on The Colbert Report is Dec. 18 (he'll take over David Letterman's seat on CBS' Late Show in mid-2015), but in 1999 the then-35-year-old was going through a different career transition. Colbert was just beginning to work as a Daily Show correspondent when Strangers With Candy, a series he'd created with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, was picked up by Comedy Central. THR seemed baffled by the show.

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The idea was to spoof after-school specials, with the focus on Jerri Blank (Sedaris), a 46-year-old ex-con, ex-drug addict and ex-prostitute who returns to high school as a freshman. (Colbert played her history teacher.) On the one hand, THR described Candy as "loaded with wicked humor," but said it "goes beyond satire all the way to poor taste" and would fully understand if the network decided "to pull the plug after the initial 10 episodes." (The show ran three seasons.) Co-creator Dinello says the show's objective "wasn't to be edgy. Making misfits laugh was our goal. Although Stephen appeared to be the most normal of the three of us, he came up with some of the most twisted stuff."

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Viacom Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog, who put the show on the air when he headed Comedy Central, says Candy was picked up because "when you have all these talented people in a room who passionately believe in something, it's hard to say no. This was when TV was all about network sitcoms; it was the apex of Must See TV and Friends. Here we had something that was outrageous and funny and smart and subversive, so we said yes." In 2005, the Strangers With Candy premise was turned into a feature with a cast that included Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt and Sarah Jessica Parker; it grossed only $2 million at the box office. "I met with the distributor and asked what the plan was, and they said the plan was not to promote it," says Dinello. "And I thought, 'That's a unique approach.' "