Intellectual Property Fun: Is Comedy Central Claiming It Owns The Character Stephen Colbert?

from the stephen-colbert-stephen-colbert-stephen-colbert dept

For years, when Stephen Colbert was on Comedy Central, he actually would discuss intellectual property issues with surprising frequency, including taking on SOPA back when it was a thing. Perhaps this is because he has a brother who is an intellectual property lawyer (who apparently works for the Olympics, which is not very encouraging). So it's interesting to see that Colbert is now claiming that a lawyer from Comedy Central or Viacom (he's not entirely clear) has contacted CBS to say that it holds the rights to the "character" of Stephen Colbert.

If you're not at all familiar with Colbert, this will take some unpacking. For many years, Colbert hosted a TV show on Comedy Central (owned by Viacom) called The Colbert Report, in which he played a pompous/clueless TV news blowhard... also named Stephen Colbert. A big part of the conceit was that this was a character, quite different than the actual Stephen Colbert in real life. More recently, Colbert ended that show, to move to network TV to take over David Letterman's old slot, where it's now the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Importantly, on the Late Show, Colbert insisted that he was leaving "the character" of Stephen Colbert behind and would actually be himself, Stephen Colbert. Got that?

In the last few months, however, there have been some concerns that this new network non-character Colbert wasn't performing well in the ratings -- and part of the blame placed on that was the fact that he was no longer using the character of Stephen Colbert from the Colbert Report.
“Late Show” has had trouble finding the funny. That’s not surprising, given how reliant his Comedy Central show was on the character he played: a smug, self-absorbed conservative talk host. That character is gone now, and now the hunt is on for what works with the “real Stephen.” Some of the standing bits toss off some good one-liners, including a fake confessional booth where Colbert admits to nonsensical sins. But too many set-ups fall flat. The “cold open” at the start of the show could develop into a keeper but at the moment it feels forced and ends abruptly, rather than naturally flowing into the title sequence.
Perhaps because of this, and as an attempt to boost ratings, last week at the Republican Convention, Colbert did two things -- he brought Jon Stewart on to return to the main desk to do a story on Donald Trump... and he brought back the Stephen Colbert character:
Except... according to (not a character... we think...) Colbert, some bigwig lawyer, at Viacom or Comedy Central has called up the lawyers at CBS to say they can't do that any more.
I'm almost surprised that Colbert didn't have his brother on to talk about this, but perhaps his brother is busy sending nastygrams to companies telling them they can't tweet about the Olympics. Either way, Colbert's "solution" to this issue is to say that the character of Stephen Colbert from the Colbert Report will no longer appear on his show... but instead, there will be a character named Stephen Colbert who is the other (character) Stephen Colbert's "identical twin cousin." You can see it all in the video above, which also concludes with Colbert bringing back one of his popular Colbert Report segments "The Word," which is now rebranded as "The Werd."

Of course, with Colbert, it's never entirely clear how much of what he says is serious or not, so it's possible that this is all a ploy to boost the ratings. However, usually when he does these things, they're at least based on a kernel of truth. And, if that's the case, it'll be interesting to see if the Viacom/Comedy Central lawyers take exception to this workaround. It would certainly be a fun lawsuit to see them arguing over which forms of Stephen Colbert Stephen Colbert can use...
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Filed Under: characters, colbert report, intellectual property, late show, stephen colbert
Companies: cbs, comedy central, viacom


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  1. identicon
    Rudyard Holmbast, 29 Jul 2016 @ 2:19am

    His ratings are down because he can't play his old character? Yeah, sure that's what it is. Give me a break. His viewership on Comedy Central was a tiny fraction of what it is now. Quite a few polls have demonstrated fairly conclusively why his ratings are MSNBC-level horrible, and it's not because he can't pretend to be "Stephen Colbert"(though he is just as smug and obnoxious as the character he once played). When you make a career out of poking fun at only one side of the political spectrum, you shouldn't be surprised when Americans on that side of the spectrum decide they aren't going to watch your new show. The aforementioned polls have found that the number of conservatives/Republicans who watch his show is practically non-existent. You can't alienate huge chunks of your potential audience and not expect to pay the price.

    The list of people who told CBS this very thing would happen if they hired Colbert is about ten miles long, so they can't say they weren't warned. Frankly, CBS can't cancel his must-avoid show soon enough. Colbert is painfully unfunny and ridiculously partisan. If I wanted to watch what is basically a liberal talk-show with a few jokes thrown in, I would watch MSNBC(ok, no I wouldn't).

    He can try all he wants to revamp the show, but the bridges have already been burned.

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