The Opening of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Is Amazzzziiinnngggg

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert premiered on CBS this week. So far, I love it — along with Colbert’s boundless energy and optimism, which were often (understandably) lost amidst his conservative blowhard persona from The Colbert Report. But rather than consider the host or his performance or the show’s ratings, all of which social/new media have already analyzed to death, I want to pay tribute to the Late Show’s opening credits.

Most late-night openings present a series of quick shots of the hosts running through nighttime street scenes in New York or Los Angeles. Then, they rely on out-of-focus shots as background plates for guest names. See the NBC shows in particular here — Seth Meyers’ and Jimmy Fallon’s. They don’t tell much of a story. James Corden’s Late Late Show titles are an interesting twist on that trope, stressing the camaraderie between the host and the band leader. Still, they’re awfully short.

The opening credits for The Late Show, however, are on another level. Watch them here around min. 05:40.

Or you could watch them here.

Consider the visuals. Tilt-shift and stop-motion photography are not what viewers normally expect from a late-night opening credit sequence. Sure, they’ve become tropes in online photo blogs like 500px or Flickr, but on late-night TV, they’re new and refreshing — especially when compared to every other similar show out there.

Image: Vox.

Check out the details:

  • the focus pulling and zooming which draw attention to parts of the frame as they work in concert with stop-motion and CGI
  • little Stephen Colbert’s tossing a basketball to a waiting Jon Batiste who, then, dunks it on a neighboring rooftop
  • Stephen’s dancing while Batiste plays a rooftop piano
  • the transition from day to night as the camera works its way to the giant COLBERT marquee outside the Ed Sullivan Theater

While I’m not 100% sure, this all appears to be a combination of CGI, miniature work, and actual time-lapse and tilt-shift footage. And by not relying on the same trick for too long, everything blends in nicely.

Image: Delmarva.

For example, notice how the names of the guests are integrated. They’re not just GIANT LETTERS that appear onscreen. In fact, they look smaller than usual. But, they’re eye-catching in other ways.

The first guest’s name on the airport runway is highlighted by the planes taking off over it, leading the eye from left to right so it doesn’t have to fill the frame. The musical guest’s name is on a moving train. If you pause the credits and look closely, you can see the band members inside the gondolas labelled “Jon Batiste” and “Stay Human”. They’re small, but I paused to do a double take, so consider my attention grabbed.

Image: Deadline Hollywood.

Significantly, Colbert’s opening features DAYLIGHT: it’s bright and sunny and cheerful. This is vastly different from the opening credits of every other late-night show, which often feature dark scenes from outside local bars. No, Colbert’s sequence doesn’t just show people having fun; fun integrates itself into the nooks and crannies of every frame.

Finally, Colbert’s theme song is catchy and danceable in a way that Fallon’s isn’t (which is a shame because The Roots are still the best house band on late night…for now). But the new theme isn’t just an earworm; the rhythm and Batiste’s melodica line immediately evoke friendliness, warmth, and joy. The background music is cool, but cool isn’t the first descriptor you’d probably use. Coupled with the daytime setting and the stop-motion/tilt-shift visuals making New York look like a toy set, it puts the audience immediately at ease.

Someone — likely a whole bunch of someones — sweated the details here, and it bodes well. There are several beautiful opening credits on television today, and now they are joined by an unlikely yet welcome companion. I can’t wait to see them repeated night after night.

Edit: I now know the identity of its creator, Fernando Livschitz, who has released the longer director’s cut. Hats off to you and your crew.

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