The Late Show With Stephen Colbert airs on CBS consistently out rates its main competitor, NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Colbert’s Streak of Ratings Supremacy Continues
Since January 30 2017, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert , which airs on CBS, has consistently out-rated its main competitor, NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, among total viewers. What had earlier seemed like a blip on the radar, has proven to manifest itself into a legitimate trend. Colbert has now enjoyed a nine week period in which his program has outperformed Fallon’s. This will be the largest stretch that the show has maintained a ratings edge over The Tonight Show in the history of its relatively short existence (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert premiered on CBS in September 2015).
Ratings Surge a Result of Political Commentary?
The surge in Colbert’s recent popularity can be attributed to the commentary in the show, Colbert who made his shtick as the host to the Comedy Central political news show The Colbert Report, was originally expected to scale back the political content when taking on the role for The Late Show, but since President Trump has taken office there has been a palpable increase in political content within the program. As daily headlines and soundbites are being made about the current administration, The Late Show, has re-calibrated and capitalized on the opportunities to incorporate what their lead-man does best. The result, so far has paid dividends, the political commentary plays into what Colbert is mostly known for, as the general public appears to become more politically conscious during, and post elections, the heightened political climate seems to have created a perfect storm for Colbert to get a leg-up on the competition. While the decision to go “more political” was a definite risk and could have been met with adverse reactions, it seems to have yielded a net positive. While it is easy to cast the political commentary as simply being anti-Trump, Colbert has also doled out some humor at the expense of the left, as evidenced by a March 15 Late Show segment that included Colbert mocking MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and her release of President Trump’s tax returns. The consensus response to Maddow’s tax story, was that it was a lot more noise than substance and ultimately did not reveal anything of import. In contrast to the segment Colbert aired on his show, Fallon subsequently had Maddow on The Tonight Show, on Wednesday March 15, but, surprisingly, did not partake in any witty humor surrounding the elephant in the room, which was the fact that most people felt her “bombshell’’ did not live up to its billing. Instead, the comic seemingly gave Maddow a platform to defend her team’s journalism sans jokes, which probably left the audience feeling like there was a giant missed opportunity, and further adds to the typecast of Fallon where he is thought to be an overly friendly host who does not delve any deeper than jokes or superficial conversations with the guests on the show. He is NBC and she is MSNBC so it is no surprise that he did not throw her under the bus.
Can Fallon's Ratings Rebound?
Up until this 9 week stretch, Fallon had consistently outrated Colbert. While he still holds a slight edge on the key 18-49 year old demographic, NBC will have to react to the overall numbers if the trend continues, but they are notorious for playing the long game. While Fallon has been noted for not being a critical interviewer and plays it relatively conservative in terms of not including polarizing (political) material, it will be interesting to see whether there will be a change in the format of the show considering how the inclusion of political commentary seems to reap tangible benefits. NBC has to be weighing the option of upping their political-speak in an effort to level the playing field. Although, it remains to be seen whether Fallon can simply imitate Colbert’s strengths, as it is not Fallon’s modus operandi to ask critical questions and take on a more serious tone with current events.
The ratings of both shows are going to be heavily monitored over the next few weeks, by both networks. Despite Colbert’s streak of high ratings, the week of March 20 - March 27 was the smallest margin of victory for Colbert since his streak had begun, in which Colbert out rated Fallon by only 30k (the smallest margin since Colbert initially took the lead on January 30 by a margin of 12k). However, that week can be construed as a bit of an outlier as CBS only aired episodes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, these episodes were taped a week prior (as opposed to the standard procedure of taping episodes earlier the same day). In addition to airing the pre-taped shows, The Late Show did not air on Thursday and Friday as a result of the NCAA basketball tournament. With regular programming returning for the week of March 27 through March 31, the numbers will be more indicative of whether Colbert will continue his ratings dominance, or regress to the mean.