When Stephen Colbert was named as David Letterman's replacement, he became a beacon of hope for viewers who want more than to watch guests play beer pong or square off in another lip sync battle.
When he appeared at the 2015 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, the ballroom was packed, as it marked the first time the former Colbert Report host would ditch his satirical ultra-conservative persona and talk truth about replacing the exiting Late Show host.
It was also his chance to convince a roomful of critics that he would continue the tradition of the hard-hitting interviews of late-night hosts past – for all of the Top 10 lists and cameras on monkeys' backs, Letterman was also the host who beat down Bill O'Reilly, Dick Cheney and anti-gun control lawmakers.
"As Johnny Carson said to Jay Leno, who said to Conan O'Brien, who said to me, 'You will use everything you know how to do because the beast must be fed,'" Colbert stated.
Indeed, Colbert fed the beast of critical mass assembled in that ballroom, opting to introduce himself via microphone before settling down to field questions for half an hour or so. In a quiet mockery of the attendees – known to live-tweet everything happening on stage – Colbert stopped to send out a few choice tweets of his own, including one about "the rude man in the middle" who fought for a question on the mic, and a gem about being so eager to mock Donald Trump that he was "dry-Trumping."
The host was unable to confirm whether he has the rights to any of the bits from The Colbert Report, what his actual format could look like or who else might appear on the series, other than the previously confirmed George Clooney. He did announce Kendrick Lamar – the final Colbert Report performer – as his inaugural musical guest and later tweeted that Jeb Bush will be the first politician stopping by.
The point of the panel, however, wasn't to learn that Colbert had spent 10 days with Letterman leading up to his exit or that he had scaled back the Ed Sullivan Theater to invoke a more intimate, live-theatre-type setting (with his desk on the opposite side of the stage). It was to feature the man himself, who has been hidden for more than a decade under the persona of a satirical newscaster.
"One of the reasons why I most wanted to drop the character is that I felt I had done everything I could with him or everything I could do with that show. Now I feel more freed up," Colbert revealed. "Not having to run everything I say through the character's bible in my head is really lovely. I used to finish my other interviews and I'd be exhausted at the end from having gone through his little path, his little maze in my head before I could say anything, and trying to do it fast enough that the audience couldn't tell I was doing it. Just doing it as myself was hard the first time, but every time after that, I'm not tired at the end. That's really heartening. Now I can just talk."
He sure can.
Much like James Corden, who took the stage last winter during another TCA tour, Colbert charmed reporters with his wit, humour and humble persona, even sitting down on the stage following the panel for a gaggle of reporters before a publicist yanked him back up, nearly causing him to take a spill. Later, he showed up at the CBS All-Stars Party at the Pacific Design Center, entertaining more questions from an incessant crowd. At one point he took a break, admitting that while he could normally handle it all, he needed a second. To his credit he resurfaced a short while later to field more questions, before dancing off to thumping background music and waving back at a small group of reporters who seemed sad to see him go.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuts Sept. 8 on Global and CBS.
Editor's note: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was incorrectly identified in the original version of this article. It will appear on Global and CBS.