Daeschler on Colbert

Who was the guest on yesterday’s episode of The Colbert Report? It was Ted Daeschler, a paleontologist at The Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia. He was part of the team that discovered the fish-tetrapod transitional form Tiktaalik roseae. Not only did he appear with Colbert, but he was there to discuss paleontology and evolution. He even brought a plaster cast of Tiktaalik.

This is no surprise coming from Colbert. Both he and Jon Stewart routinely have scholars on their shows to have at least somewhat serious discussions of important issues. In this they differ from virtually every other interview show on television. The entertainment shows like Leno and Letterman almost never have scholars on the show. And even when they have politicians or journalsists on they usually just run through a scripted, boilerplate interview. The cable news shows are even worse. They pretend to have serious discussions about things, but seem far more interested in creating heat than light.

It hasn’t always been this way. Compare Johnny Carson to any late-night talk-show host today. It was Johnny Carson who made Carl Sagan a star. Carson also had guests like the Amazing Randi to debunk spoon-benders and faith healers. Carson famously had Randi on the show to expose the deceptions employed by evangelist Peter Popoff. And it was Carson, advised by Randi, who humiliated the phony psychic Uri Geller by forcing him to perform his alleged miracles under conditions that precluded trickery. (Video of the segment is available here. And it was Carson who began the tradition of talk show hosts having guests like Joan Embry or Jack Hannah to discuss various exotic animals. A significant imporvement over the endless nattering of celebrities promoting their films, I’d say.

Nowadays you have to look to two comedy news shows for any signs of intelligent conversation on television chat shows. When Colbert had Daeschler on, the intent of the interview was to learn something, even as Colbert played his standard character. By contrast, when Bill O’Reilly had biologists Michael Grant and Paul Gross on his show at various times, to discuss the evolution/ID issue, the intent was for O’Reilly to puff himself up by raving incoherently about issues he knew nothing about.

I find that vexing.


  1. #1 Anonymous
    May 19, 2006

    We’re in a bizzaro world where comedy shows inform and new programs are a joke.

  2. #2 Anonymous
    May 19, 2006

    (that should be “news programs”)

  3. #3 Anonymous
    May 19, 2006

    It’s actually a quite nice scenario for those of us who enjoy comedy and find news dull. Best of both worlds!

  4. #4 Walter
    May 19, 2006

    I got to throw a little cold water on this: I’m guessing a main reason why scientists and scholars appear on these comedy shows is because they can’t book the high-profile celebs that late-night talk shows can. The Daily Show is fun, but it has about 1.5 million viewers each night, which is actually pretty low. Leno is about 5.6 million. (I pulled the numbers from an AP article and Wikipedia, so take them as you will.) I’m glad these Colbert and Stewart are picking these guests, but I bet they would shoot for celebs if they could. As for cable news shows, no real argument there. Compare Carson to Larry King’s treatment of the paranormal.

  5. #5 kfnyc
    May 19, 2006

    so walter…your point is….?

    How many people watch south park? or the simpsons…fake cartoon or comedy shows have more real facts and feelings than all news or interview shows put together….

    I loved the episode with Reeves eating the fetuses…gross but cool…and the whole mohammed thing…

    I didn’t used to watch colbert or the daily show and I still hardly get the chance but its no mistake that most young people get their current events news from these sources.

  6. #6 Ebonmuse
    May 20, 2006

    I was extremely impressed to see Daeschler on Stephen Colbert, as opposed to the endless parade of politicians and pundits hyping their newest book. What I wouldn’t give for a return to the days when Carl Sagan was a regular guest on Johnny Carson…

  7. #7 RPM
    May 20, 2006

    Wasn’t Carson an amateur magician? Could that explain why he was into debunking people that tried to pass off magic tricks as “real”? He and Randi would be in the same boat in that regard.

  8. #8 Marcus
    May 20, 2006

    Walter, you couldn’t have seen many episodes of The Daily Show, or you’d be dismayed by the sheer volume of celebrity guests who regularly insert a vapid hole in the middle of the show:


    They can get any celebrity they want, but my guess is that it’s the network pushing for a certain amount of celeb pluggers, Jon Stewart’s buddies notwithstanding.

  9. #9 J
    May 21, 2006

    I checked out the interview on the Colbert report website and I was not very impressed. Dr. Daeschler may have been well informed about his topics, but he seemed to have no clue what was going on when Colbert was playing the character that he does. Colbert seemed to have to help him out at times. Seriously, if we’re going to have scientists go on shows and try to inform the public that�s great. Really. But please inform them that they have to act personable and pander to show. Not just give some pre-rehearsed speech.

  10. #10 jj mollo
    May 22, 2006

    Johnny Carson even had James Randi on his show. One of my favorite episodes was where Randi’s people intercepted the radio communication between Peter Popoff and his wife. She was providing real-time background information on the people from the audience who asked Popoff for a healing. Yes, she’d say. His sister has a knee problem or something like that. Then you’d hear Popoff divine the sister’s problem. It was stunning and hilarious. The interesting thing is that many people, having seen the show, still thought that Peter Popoff was a miracle worker.

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