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Colbert tells it like it is (sort of) on new show

NEW YORK -- Stephen Colbert's right. He's always right -- however much logic and common sense say otherwise. And those who disagree with him are wrong.

It's that simple (and funny), as viewers know from Colbert's hilarious commentaries since 1997 as senior correspondent on Comedy Central's ''The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

Now his No-Fact Zone has expanded into a half-hour spinoff, ''The Colbert Report." It will air Mondays through Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., right after ''The Daily Show," starting Monday.

And not a moment too soon, figures Colbert.

''My character is self-important, poorly informed, well-intentioned but an idiot," Colbert explains. ''So we said, 'Let's give him a promotion.' "

Note: The title of the new series should be pronounced with a silent ''t" in ''report" as well as in ''Colbert" (say: coal-bear ray-poor), as a verbal handshake exchanged by Colbert cognoscenti.

The show carries on in the satiric tradition of ''The Daily Show" (TV's gloriously fake newscast) by serving up phony versions of cable-news punditry such as MSNBC's ''Scarborough Country," CNN Headline News's ''Nancy Grace," and, of course, Fox News Channel's top-rated ''The O'Reilly Factor," whose host, Bill O'Reilly, oversees what he calls ''the No-Spin Zone" with messianic bluster that cries out to be mocked.

''These shows are the demon children of the 24-hour cable-news cycle," says Colbert.

That's because their star-driven ''reporting" is a cheap and popular time-filler, geared to embellish each host's point of view -- facts be damned.

''In order to maintain an untenable position, you have to be actively ignorant," marvels Colbert. ''One of our mottoes on the show is, 'Keep your facts -- I'm going with the truth.' "

And in the spirit of O'Reilly, the avowed independent thinker, ''we work hard not to come down pro-right, or anti-left, but generally to come down pro-you. I'm on your side. It's not about right and left -- it's us and them. I'm looking out for America and I'm looking over your shoulder at the same time. Because I've got your back."

Slim and sharp-featured, Colbert bristles with a schoolmasterish hauteur on air, the sort of arched-brow certitude that says: Disagree with me and risk expulsion. But as he riffs for a visitor at his mid-Manhattan office, he exhibits a key difference from his TV persona: He is grinning with delight.

''Hey, I call 'em as I see 'em," he continues. ''I'm going from the gut, not the brain. That's what our show is like: From the gut. And other organs," he adds, helpfully tracing his abdomen.

But exactly what's in store from ''The Colbert Report" remains to be seen. Like ''The Daily Show," it will be taped before a live audience just hours before airing. It will have a featured guest (on Monday: NBC's Stone Phillips). Plus dispatches of some kind from the field. And lots of Colbert mouthing off.

''Lemme just talk to you for a second about something that I think is good for America: caramel apples," says Colbert, having seized this possible talking point from a list on his desk. ''I had one last night. Delicious. Not talking about candy apples. I think candy apples are a danger! You crack 'em, they're very sharp. You candy apple crowd need to wake up!"

Colbert dissolves into laughter at his character's brass.

''He believes that everything he thinks of is worth saying! He has an opinion on everything, with every opinion given equal weight, whether it's caramel apples or the Supreme Court."

The 41-year-old Colbert became a member of Chicago's Second City improv troupe, and with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello created ''Exit 57," a sketch-comedy series, and ''Strangers With Candy."

But all of that was but a prelude to ''The Colbert Report," whose mission, he pledges, is ''to change the world. Not much. Just a little bit. Day by day." With justice and caramel apples for all.

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