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Here's what I learned watching the debut of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."

First, that the Stephen Colbert we saw for all those years on "The Colbert Report" — the right-wing, blowhard, political pundit character Colbert created — wasn't that far removed from the real Stephen Colbert we saw on Tuesday night.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

And, second, this new version of "The Late Show" is a program I could fall in love with.

There was a lot to love on Tuesday night. The opening, national anthem bit — topped off by a surprise appearance by Jon Stewart. Speaking of surprises, how about a couple of (taped) appearances by "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon.

(That speaks to the power of Fallon at NBC. There's nobody at the network who could have told him not to appear on the competing CBS show even if they really didn't want him to do it.)

Colbert's monologue was good, the energy was great. George Clooney's appearance was fine. The closing musical number, featuring musical director Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, along with Brittany Howard, Buddy Guy, Ben Folds, Derek Trucks and Colbert himself — was wonderful.

And Colbert's heartfelt tribute to his predecessor, David Letterman — and his stage manager, Biff Henderson — was great.

The best bits, however, were Colbert taking on Donald Trump and Colbert interviewing Jeb Bush. And that's how the new show can differentiate itself in a crowded late-night field. Because nobody else is doing this kind of satire and doing this kind of political humor … with the exception of Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

In a lot of ways, we live in a golden age of late-night TV. Personally, I like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and James Corden. They're all doing very watchable stuff.

But I think there's an audience out there more inclined toward biting, political humor than, say, Fallon's silly sketches. Not that there's anything wrong with silly sketches — they're a lot of fun.

However, as we head toward the 2016 elections, it may well be that "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" will be the late-night show to watch.

Upcoming on Wednesday night (10:35 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2), Colbert's guests will be Scarlett Johansson and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. And on Thursday — Vice President Joe Biden.