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Was Stephen Colbert's Daft Punk-MTV takedown a staged hoax?
Colbert spun a last-minute musical cancelation into comedy gold. Or maybe he just shilled for his sister network?
 

The internet was delighted this week by Stephen Colbert's brutally funny takedown of MTV and its president, Van Toffler, for forcing the last-minute cancelation of Daft Punk's Colbert Report appearance — heavily promoted as "Stephest Colbchella '013."

According to Colbert, media-shy Daft Punk had to choose between his show and a surprise appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards at the end of August — MTV and Comedy Central are both owned by Viacom — and the French duo chose MTV. As a result, Tuesday night's Colbert Report had everything: Cutting remarks about Daft Punk ("Click and Clack") and MTV and the Man (Toffler), celebrity guest stars doing their own version of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" (including Matt Damon, Ashton Kutcher, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Laurie, Henry Kissinger, the Rockettes...), a surprise performance by Robin Thicke ("Blurred Lines"), top-notch Colbert comedy — and vicious spoilers.

After all, as Rich Juzwiak at Gawker said, Colbert's "astoundingly brash rant" sabotaged MTV's big annual awards show. And Colbert also burned Toffler by reading one of his emails on-air. "This kind of bureaucratic infighting and chest puffing is so Viacom," said Juzwiak, "that if there were a show called That's So Viacom!, this incident could provide material for its pilot."

Booking Thicke at the last minute was a pretty big coup for Colbert, too, said Marc Hogan at Spin. He wasn't a perfect replacement for the record-setting Daft Punk, but "that he performed at all was an astounding example of Colbert pulling synergistic victory from the brand-crushing jaws of defeat."

Or was it? Not everyone was convinced that Colbert just got lucky. According to Billboard's sources, Thicke taped his performance on July 31, not Tuesday, said Evan Minsker at Pitchfork. Perhaps that means Colbert was nervous Daft Punk would bail and taped Thicke as a backup. Or maybe "Thicke's performance was part of an elaborate ruse," some sort of "cross-promotional method of advertising Daft Punk's appearance on the VMAs."

Colbert's elaborate star-studded video of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" clearly "wasn't something pulled together in a day," either, said Greg Crawford at the Detroit Free Press. NBC's Late Night posted the part where Colbert waltzed onto the set to dance with Jimmy Fallon on July 29 — Colbert "briefly danced to 'Get Lucky' and then left the stage without saying why." So Tuesday's show was either "a real-life corporate tiff over Daft Punk or the most elaborately planned — and funniest — corporate cross-promotion in memory."

"Yeah, this kind of seems like one giant publicity stunt," says Emily Yahr at The Washington Post. But "no one does a feud, faux or otherwise, like Stephen Colbert." Besides, the show was so entertaining, "it's hard to care."

Stephen Colbert cares. He discussed the questions about his segment on Wednesday night's show:

He made some good points: What's in it for Colbert to shill for the MTV music awards? And The New York Times backs up Colbert's story, too.

Colbert's hilarious replacement show was a viral hit, "but what happened behind the scenes was no joke," said Ben Sisario at The New York Times.

According to three people who were briefed on the talks or directly involved in them, Daft Punk's planned appearance had already been a source of stress for Colbert since the group was only willing to appear in costume, and not perform or sit for an interview. Then on Monday, while flying to New York from Paris, the group called producers to cancel, citing the conflict with MTV....

Negotiations between MTV and Comedy Central became intense. MTV threatened to cut Daft Punk from the awards if the group also appeared on Colbert, and would not budge despite pleas from Comedy Central.... Viacom executives declined to interfere in the dispute, these people said, but Columbia Records, Daft Punk's American label, got involved, advising the group not to risk its appearance on MTV.... For Daft Punk, or any other act, a successful appearance on the Video Music Awards can be valuable promotion. [New York Times]

It's probably in Viacom's interest to bury this story as quickly as possible, but planned or not, MTV will also probably benefit from the publicity. In any case, Colbert has definitely turned this into a win for himself, so tune in Thursday night. I doubt Stephest Colbchella '013 is over yet.

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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