Stephen Colbert’s late night show was essentially on life support. Since the program’s debut, ratings significantly trailed Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. CBS Chief Les Moonves was worried and brought in a new show producer. Today, Colbert is the leader in late night.
The difference was a deep rethink of the role the program filled versus their late night competition, combined with pivoting to the strength of its talent. Today’s Colbert "Late Show" is far more political; certainly benefiting from the Trump resistance. Beyond that, the show plays more closely to Colbert's origins with The Daily Show and his character on the Colbert Report.
For programmers producers and talent, whether broadcast or podcast, the lessons in Colbert’s ascension are plentiful as chronicled in this New York Times article. "How Stephen Colbert finally found his elusive groove."
Without a strategy of differentiation, many shows and podcasts will tread water or disappear.
In radio, there are far too many indistinguishable “Biff and Bonnie” type morning shows. They all do the same trivia contests and have the same take on entertainment news. Programmers scratch their heads wondering why the program is not growing. While sometimes it is a lack of talent, which will certainly doom a show, often it is the dearth of a differentiating strategy.
The same holds true in a sea of 350,000 podcasts. No matter the subject, there are plenty of choices – there are 27 podcasts about crocheting. How can one show stand out from the pack? What is measurably better or different? Those questions remain elusive for too many programs.
Without a thoughtful strategy of differentiation, many shows and podcasts will tread water or disappear.
In the case of Colbert, his cast and crew are the same, but there is now great clarity regarding content selection, direction and presentation. Colbert’s new producer, Chris Licht’s focus was not on how to be good – Colbert is good - but how to be different. His scouting report; "this is all over the place. This doesn't seem cohesive." By focusing on viewer (or listener) needs, expectations and seizing on hot topics, they have captured the moment and built a show for the times we live in, thus filling a void.
There is a lot of content out there. There is a lot of talent out there.
The win is the combination of talent + strategy.
The article is a great read for content creators and talent.