I’m asking this question very tentatively, based on a small sample size, with the full knowledge that TV interviews are a two-way street that can’t succeed unless both parties are on roughly the same page. The other big caveat here is that Colbert was terrific as an interviewer on The Colbert Report—he perfected Bill O’Reilly’s smug, interrupting style, and he always let his guests make their points through his constant faux-conservative barrage.
All that being said, his style since taking over The Late Show seems to be unchanged, and that’s a problem. This combative style is not at all conducive to the network late night format, where the sensibilities of both the audience and the guests are far less specific. Colbert interrupts constantly, he seems slightly on edge—as though his relationship with the guest is antagonistic—and a sense of unease permeates most of his interactions. It’s difficult to explain why it’s not working, so I’d encourage you to watch the interview above with Casey Affleck for a typical example. It’s not disastrous, by any means, but it is awkward and unsettling, and it really, really doesn’t seem like Affleck’s fault.
This whole thing warrants further investigation, but I’ve seen enough of these uncomfortable clips to question Colbert’s approach. And I wonder if it explains the fact that he’s getting beat by both Fallon and Kimmel in the ratings.