The Super Bowl Is Stephen Colbert’s Opening Act, and He’s Ready to Make the Most of It

Sunday may bring his biggest audience ever

CBS should have no problem drawing at least 110 million viewers to its Super Bowl 50 broadcast on Feb. 7, but the network has even grander ambitions for what could turn out to be a record-breaking audience. For the first time, the network has given over its coveted post-Super Bowl slot not to one of its prime-time series, but to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the biggest spotlight ever for a late-night broadcast.

It's a huge vote of confidence in—and an even bigger opportunity for—Colbert, who has accomplished nearly everything that CBS hoped for since he left Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, on which he satirized conservative hosts like Bill O'Reilly for nine years, to take over for David Letterman, who retired last May. Since launching in September, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has grown 18 percent in total viewers (3.16 million), 67 percent in adults 18-34 and 60 percent in adults 18-49 (0.8 rating) versus last season, and has overtaken Jimmy Kimmel Live as the No. 2 show in adults 18-49. (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon remains comfortably in the lead this season, with 3.88 million total viewers and a 1.09 demo rating.) Most importantly, Colbert has made late night a lucrative daypart once again for CBS. During the fall, the network doubled its Late Show ad rates from a year earlier, according to SQAD NetCosts.

Sunday's live show will be all about the Super Bowl, Colbert says.Andrew Eccles

The network hopes Sunday's broadcast will continue Colbert's momentum and help The Late Show gain even more ground on Fallon. "It's going to be the greatest late-night, post-Super Bowl show ever," said Colbert of the episode, which will feature Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Margot Robbie, Key & Peele, and at least one surprise guest. "The only, but also the greatest."

As he prepares for his post-Super Bowl debut, Colbert talks about how The Late Show has evolved since September, his biggest fear about moving to CBS, why he loves brand integrations and which other late-night host he is "jealous" of.

Adweek: Why are you doing the post-Super Bowl show from New York as opposed to near the game in San Francisco?

Stephen Colbert: I think a live show is hard enough, and you want to do it in friendly confines. Also, I don't know if you've seen what we've done to the Ed Sullivan Theater, but we're like a family that bought a beach house. We're not going on vacation anywhere until we get our money out of the beach house.

What do you have planned for the show?

Everything's about Super Bowl. We'll do our live analysis, and we'll have our live analysis of the most important thing: who won the commercials. And we'll have our own Super Bowl commercial. We'll be watching the game and writing the show as we go. We practiced doing the Patriots-Broncos [AFC Championship game] because that's something we've never done before. We've written jokes live about an election, but how do you write jokes about a Super Bowl? We've got to turn the jokes around in 20 minutes.

For many of those viewers, it will be the first time they've seen your show.

Oh, yeah. It's 10 times our audience, and I want people to see an indicative show because I really like our show. And I don't want to bait and switch. If you like what you saw, tomorrow is going to be a different subject, but this is what you're going to get.

This will likely be the largest audience you'll ever have. Are you nervous?