Comedy Central remained deafeningly silent Thursday as to why one of its biggest franchises, “The Colbert Report,” suddenly went dark Wednesday as the network cited “unforeseen circumstances.”
Minus actual information, frantic fans began to speculate ghoulishly about the state of Stephen Colbert’s health, his family’s health, the mental health of his staff, his super PAC, his relationship with the network and whether the show had been canceled — or whether he was booked for a last-minute trip to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, The Reporters Who Cover Television did their bit to fan the flames. By late afternoon, a report that Colbert’s 91-year-old mother was ill was leading the pack — with the Huffington Post citing a source it described as a “person who has a business relationship with the show.”
People holding tickets for Wednesday’s taping received an e-mail saying, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have cancelled our taping for the date of your ticket reservation, February 15, 2012.”
Those who had not checked their e-mails showed up at the studio and were turned away. And viewers who tuned in Wednesday night expecting to see an original episode instead saw a rerun in which Colbert waxed comic about Herman Cain.
The show’s Web site was updated to say that Thursday’s episode also would be a rerun. The faux-news program does not tape on Fridays.
All day Thursday, the Viacom-owned network stuck with its official statement:
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the show will air repeat episodes on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16.”
The show is expected to return to originals soon, a source who has knowledge of the situation told The TV Column.
Meanwhile, the show’s warm-up guy, Pete Dominick, had nothing to offer, tweeting: “Yes I work at the Colbert Report and No I dont know why the show is off for 2 nights.”
Colbert’s Twitter feed had nothing to offer — it’s been silent since Tuesday’s “Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope you’re enjoying your flowers, or chocolates, or smug self-satisfaction at not celebrating Valentine’s Day.”
“The longer it takes to put out news on what’s happening the more scared we all get,” a concerned fan wrote midday on the Huffington Post, adding: “Really Hope everything is ok. Thinking positive thoughts.”
On that front, commenters were getting no help from the press. The Web site Third Beat, faced with no information from the network, thought to note — after reminding us that “a last-minute cancellation is highly unusual for Comedy Central’s fake news shows” — that “The Daily Show” has suspended production at the last minute twice during Jon Stewart’s tenure: once when one of his children was born, and once when a staff member took his own life.
“If this week’s reasons are of a similar nature, it would be a first for the ‘Colbert Report,’ ” the site said.
Oprah Winfrey, recovering from a weekend Twitter embarrassment, let ABC announce Thursday that she will kiss and make up with the late-night show host who has mocked her for years.
That is, the other late-night host who has mocked her for years.
Oprah buried the hatchet with CBS late-night host David Letterman back in ’05 — it coincided with her mounting of a Broadway production of “The Color Purple” at a theater located spitting distance from Letterman’s studio. That ended nearly two decades in which Oprah refused, despite Letterman’s repeated requests, to return to any show he was hosting. She told Time magazine it was because, back in the ’80s, when she was his guest, she was the butt of his jokes.
Speaking of “butt of his jokes,” Kimmel is the guy who had his late-night audience sing the “All Hail Oprah!” song with arms stretched stiff and skyward; the guy who created the Oprah Voice app; and the guy who claimed Oprah was the reason Comedy Central created “The Man Show,” which he co-hosted in the late ’90s and early ’00s, grooming him for his current ABC gig.
Yet for the Academy Awards, on Feb. 26, Winfrey has agreed to “headline” “Jimmy Kimmel Live’s” annual “After the Academy Awards” program. Oprah’s getting this year’s humanitarian award “for her inspiring philanthropic efforts, which have brought credit to the industry,” ABC explained.
Yes, she’ll have to share the spotlight with George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Don Cheadle, John Krasinski, and Oscarcast host Billy Crystal — as well as others who have been booked to appear on the show.
On the other hand, none of them got the ABC “icon” treatment. That’s how ABC described Oprah in its announcement. Also: “philanthropist.” Also: “Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winner.” And, grandest of all, “one of the most influential individuals in the world.”
No mention was made of “struggling cable-network CEO” or “desperate tweeter.”
Last Sunday, during CBS’s broadcast of the Grammy-Awards-cum-Whitney-Houston-tribute, Winfrey tweeted the plea: “Every 1 who can please turn to [Oprah Winfrey Network] especially if u have a Neilsen box.”
That night, OWN was debuting an episode of “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
Problem is, TV networks and the people who are behind them are not allowed to try to sway Nielsen homes like that, per Nielsen’s rules. When it’s been done in the past, Nielsen has expunged the network’s ratings for the particular show it was plugging, so any ratings increase would not be included in the program’s average.
When last heard from on the subject, Nielsen said it would work to “resolve the situation” regarding Oprah’s tweet.
After word of the gaffe got out Sunday, Oprah expunged the tweet and began to defend herself against comments, tweeting:
“ ‘Desperate’ is not ever part of my vocab. Just making a request.”
“The word ‘please’ is used as courtesy not a beg.”
But later, as befits one of the most influential individuals in the world, she tweeted to her many followers: “You really are more than a number.”
Ironically, just a few days after Oprah urged viewers to turn away from the tribute to Houston — which was by far the biggest thing going on in TV on Sunday night — TMZ reported that Oprah had scored “one of the coveted invitations to Whitney Houston’s [invitation-only] funeral on Saturday.”
Several of Houston’s famous friends have been invited — Kevin Costner, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, etc. — but Oprah is “by far the most famous person on the guest list,” the celebrity tabloid show reported on the same day that ABC announced Oprah would headline Kimmel’s post-Oscar show.
To read Lisa de Moraes’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.