GREG MORRISON

essays, articles, & reviews

my thoughts on design, advertising, and the arts

Late Night Design: There's a New Serif in Town

The past year or two has seen a complete change in the landscape of late night TV, and with changing hosts comes changing design. Jimmy Fallon really kicked things off with his Pentagram-designed rebrand of "The Tonight Show," which took the moon theme into a whole new phase.

The use of a bold sans-serif typeface helped give "The Tonight Show" a more modern, contemporary feel—a design trend also applied to the branding for Seth Meyers' takeover of "Late Night."

Image graphic by Brand New

Image graphic by Brand New

Comedy Central seems to have gotten the memo, too, as reflected by the graphic identities for the new "The Daily Show" with Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore's "The Nightly Show."

But amidst this all-caps block-letter love, one show has chosen to stand out by going for a decidedly old-fashioned look.

Just when it was beginning to look like serifs were dead in the entertainment world, Stephen Colbert brings them back in a big way. The new logo by Doyle Partners goes for a traditional, somewhat bookish-looking typeface that conveys the host's oddball-intellectual persona. Of course, the big question before Colbert's "Late Show" debuted was how different he would be from the Colbert we came to know (or did we?) on the "Report." The respective logos give us a clue that the "real" Colbert won't be too different from the character.

The color scheme is the most obvious holdover from Colbert's all-American roots on the "Report," and the serifs are still there, but slightly less bold and more playful for "The Late Show"—much like the man himself, if the first few weeks of his show are any indication. By bucking the block-letter trend, Colbert has set himself apart graphically with a logo that is no less strong visually than those of his competitors, but slightly more interesting if only for being different.

And the good design choices don't end there; Colbert's team really knocked it out of the park with their opening title sequence. It features the brilliant use of tilt-shift and time-lapse photography to make one of the world's biggest cities look like a toyland where Colbert can play in his uniquely silly way.

Jon Batiste and Stay Human's funky theme song is easily the best in late night, and the set design of the newly-renovated Ed Sullivan Theater is first class.

In fact, the only "Late Show" design choice I don't like is the the use of floating squares and rectangles as a backdrop to various graphic elements, as shown here.

This look is distractingly "busy," and it has a very dated feel—a bit like something from a 1980s political talk show. It took me a while to realize why I made that association, but I think I've figured it out.

So perhaps despite his best efforts, Stephen Colbert can't completely distance himself from the world of punditry. But since the "Stephen Colbert" was one of the greatest characters in the history of television, I've got no problem with that.

Stay human, Colbert, but stay Stephen, too.

Greg MorrisonComment