Scott Gries—Picturegroup/Comedy Central
By Lily Rothman
December 15, 2014

When The Colbert Report began it’s nearly decade-long run in 2005—the show rolls its final credits on Dec. 18—viewers and critics were excited but nervous. Colbert’s blowhard persona had been a mainstay of The Daily Show, but many worried that, given a whole half-hour to anchor, the character would grow tiresome.

Even in the first few weeks, the jury was out.

“Unfortunately, in just two weeks on the air, this half-hour spoof of a no-spin-zone type show has already stretched Colbert’s character and the artifice that supports it past its natural breaking point,” wrote USA Today. “Colbert was an invaluable part of the Daily Show, but as the whole show, he’s not enough and too much simultaneously.” And New York magazine decided that one of Colbert’s rivals at Comedy Central, David Spade’s The Showbiz Show, was the better of the two. The Colbert Report, wrote critic Adam Sternbergh, “has problems so intrinsic as to be potentially unfixable.” (The Showbiz Show ended in 2007.) Even critics who liked the show, like Heather Havrilesky at Salon, found the show “foolish, bizarre, idiotic fun,” mostly interesting in regards to his characters spoof of Bill O’Reilly.

Still, when the consensus emerged, it was one that stuck: The show was great. “[H]e packs more wit and acid commentary in 22 minutes of his one-man show than multiple skits by the entire cast of ‘SNL,’” declared The New York Times, and the The Los Angeles Times said that “Colbert, with his young Republican haircut and dead-serious eyes, is a terrifically artful speaker; there may be no better reader of writing on TV than him.”

TIME’s James Poniewozik concurred:

Many people, Colbert included, were worried that that guy would be too much to take for 30 minutes. (Then again, people blow a full hour on Bill O’Reilly.) But Colbert inhabits his pose so lustily–“I’ve just swallowed 20 condoms full of truth, and I’m smuggling them across the border!”–that his glee is infectious. Like the band Weezer or The O.C.‘s Seth Cohen, he is in the grand modern tradition of the swaggering nerd.

And here’s another reason to swagger: His legions of fans would say that the question of whether he’s too much to take—for 11 seasons, much less 30 minutes—seems as “foolish, bizarre, idiotic” as the character to whom they’re saying good-bye.

Read James Poniewozik’s full Nov. 14, 2005, piece on The Colbert Report: The American Bald Ego

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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