spoiler_alert (2007-50)


The Best of the Colbert Report is just one part of a â“less is lessâ” trend

by Dave Prince

The Writers Guild of Americaâ’s strike makes me feel like a sinner. Iâ’m reminded of my time as an altar boy (not in that way, of course). After communion, we always had some extra sacramental grape juice left over, and I, being a savvy poor South Knoxville boy, gladly helped myself to the proceeds. After all, I had access to it, and it was free grape juice from Jesus, right?

Wrong. And, in a labyrinthine way, topical. Until about a month ago, I felt the same way about all those back episodes of The Colbert Report I watched at work on Comedy Centralâ’s website. Itâ’s not like this is old-school Napster weâ’re dealing with here. This is the official site, the real deal, the proverbial golden teat from which all goodness flows. I canâ’t be doing any harm here, right?

Wrong again. There is currently no contract for residuals between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers for media distributed over the Internet. In laymanâ’s terms, this means that when you watch an episode of Heroes on NBCâ’s website, the people who wrote it get exactly zero percent of any ad revenue generated by you wasting time at work. That may not seem like much, but if you take the tiny amount made from one set of in-video advertisements, banner ads, and pop-ups, then multiply that by a gajillion people wasting time at work all at once, the amount generated quickly becomes substantial.

Just like that juice bottle in the refrigerator, nobody bothered to put a â“DO NOT TOUCHâ” sign on all that rich, delicious streaming video until the WGA went on strike over it. And while I surely canâ’t be blamed for my ignorance, far be it from me to deny a hardworking team of writers their just desserts.

Luckily for my conscience, Comedy Central likes my money, and someone over there realized that slapping the Colbert brand on a best-of collection would net them a healthy fan-boy-based profit. Their recipe for success: sprinkle three hoursâ’ worth of previously created content on a format which costs pennies to make, garnish liberally with recognizable images, heat and serve.

Unfortunately, The Best of the Colbert Report isnâ’t a feast of fake punditry as much as itâ’s a Whitmanâ’s samplerâ"a little something for everyone, but not enough to truly satisfy, and with a distinct lack of anything unexpected. The best-known high notes are all hitâ"Colbertâ’s extended feuds with Willie Nelson, Barry Manilow, Sean Penn, and the Decemberists are all represented, as well as less-confrontational moments such as the introduction of â“truthinessâ” and Colbertâ’s make-out sessions with Jane Fondaâ"but without any DVD-exclusive extras, paying a premium for brand recognition feels a little off.

As a consumer, itâ’s my duty to recommend that you buy 10 copies of this collection. As a critic, however, itâ’s my job to tell you that itâ’s as threadbare an example of the Report as a whole as Betsy Rossâ’ Revolution-era flag is of the current stars-and-stripes model. Sure, 175 minutes sounds significant. By that same unit of measure, though, weâ’re looking at a total of 7,000 or so minutes over the last three years. So The Best of the Colbert Report contains a mere 2.5 percent of the showâ’s content to date. In an age in which I am at any time no more than four mouse clicks away from nearly a decadeâ’s worth of The Daily Show, I canâ’t help but feel cheated.

And therein lies the rub. Disc-based media, be it DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, or whatever magical format the future holds, is a model limited by its space, and when tech-savvy consumers are offered an alternative limited only by the amount of content produced, theyâ’re going to bite. The distribution channels are being set up even nowâ"if you have digital cable, a high-speed Internet connection, or even an iPod, youâ’re part of the new status quo. Apparently, the producers are the only link in the new supply chain which isnâ’t (as of this writing) ready to play nice under the new model. This currently leaves consumers with the less-than-ideal choice between two scenarios: limitless options whose use might starve their creators, or the current Big-Box-meets-Beyond-Thunderdome situation where quality productions are forced to fight for their lives against those godawful Mind of Mencia box sets.


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