In Depth

Peabody Award Winners: Hello Doggie, ‘The Colbert Report’

Like “Nimrod Nation,” another Peabody Award winner for 2007, “The Colbert Report” started as a series of commercials. But unlike that series—or any other series, for that matter—the ads were fake and the show didn’t even exist. Once a few creative minds at Comedy Central decided to test the waters with a real program, however, American political satire did a backflip.

“The Colbert Report,” according to the statement released by the Peabody Awards committee, is “a sendup of politics and all that is bombastic and self-serving in cable news.” The group adds that host Stephen Colbert “has come into his own as one of electronic media’s sharpest satirists.”

Allison Silverman, an executive producer along with Jon Stewart and Mr. Colbert (Dr. Colbert, if you count the honorary doctorate of fine arts he was awarded in 2006 by Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.; that title is now listed in the show’s credits), admitted it can be “tricky” to make the show work five nights a week. “But what we have is Stephen Colbert,” Ms. Silverman said, “and he can make anything funny.”

A typical day on the show, Ms. Silverman said, begins with research and footage teams—“We’re well-served by those guys”—who comb the news wires and the Web to see what has happened in the news over the last 24 hours. The producers rely heavily on the research staff, she said, noting “it can get dangerous” if the producers should miss something important.

There’s a 9:30 meeting with the writers, which breaks “when we feel like we have a take on things, usually around 11,” Ms. Silverman said. “Then the writers go off to write and we meet with the rest of the staff to let the production and graphics people know what we need.”

The producers and graphics designers start “producing and designing,” she said, and “at 1 p.m. the scripts come in. Then we meet with everyone to say, ‘All that stuff we told you this morning? It’s gone. But we have another idea.’”

Ms. Silverman said she left “a secure job, a job I enjoyed, on ‘Late Night With Conan O’Brien,’ to do ‘The Colbert Report.’ Even if it was only 32 episodes,” which was Comedy Central’s original commitment, Ms. Silverman said, “I knew I had to do it. I felt wherever [Mr. Colbert] was leading it, it would be something good.”

Mr. Colbert, who has described his fictitious counterpart as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot,” is himself known as a humanitarian, particularly after having adopted a “son,” Stephen Jr.

That son is an American bald eagle bred for the wild, from whom the anchor is said to be estranged, although Ms. Silverman said there were reports the bird had recently returned to the U.S. Stephen Jr. is “a bit of a rebellious adolescent,” she admitted, who prefers to spend his winters in Canada, much to the public chagrin of Mr. Colbert.

The show tapes at 7 p.m., Ms. Silverman said, with rewriting going on until the last minute. Then the staff goes home, and the next day they do the whole thing all over again.

In spite of the program’s dead-on aim at political pundits, Ms. Silverman insisted “The Colbert Report” is not trying to change the world, or even affect American politics. Really, she said, “We’re just trying to crack the staff up. If we can get the stage manager to laugh, we’ve done our job.”