Stephen Colbert has been enjoying a good few weeks. “The Late Show” has been the most-watched show in late night for the past four weeks — winning a sweeps period for the first time since his version of “The Late Show” debuted — and it’s led to a rash of stories about how the Trump presidency has reinvigorated Colbert’s comedy.

It’s a small lead — “The Late Show” has beaten “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” by an average of 127,500 viewers over the past four weeks — and Fallon still holds the edge among younger viewers, averaging a 0.7 among adults 18-49 to Colbert’s 0.52. (All ratings figures cited in this post are live plus same-day.)

In the talk of “The Late Show’s” resurgence, however, what has gone mostly unremarked on is the fact that “The Tonight Show” has hit a slump. The gains “The Late Show” have made since late January are not as big as the declines for “The Tonight Show” in the same period. Here’s how the three 11:35 p.m. shows stack up for the season through Jan. 20, the day of President Trump’s inauguration, and the time since then:

(Averages above exclude repeat weeks for all three shows.)

“Jimmy Kimmel Live” is fairly steady in third place, falling about 4 percent in viewers and 6 percent in adults 18-49 since late January. “The Late Show” has risen 10 percent in viewers and a more modest 4 percent in the 18-49 demographic.

“The Tonight Show,” meanwhile, has fallen off 12 percent in viewers and 17 percent among adults 18-49 since the week of Jan. 23. It’s possible some of those viewers have switched to “The Late Show,” but even in the virtually impossible scenario that every single viewer gained by Colbert in the past month is a former Fallon devotee, that wouldn’t account for all of “Tonight’s” decline. The dip in adults 18-49 is also mostly unaccounted for by “The Late Show’s” rise.

Four weeks is a relatively small sample size for late-night shows. It’s long enough, however, to note a trend. It will be worth keeping an eye on whether “The Tonight Show” pulls out of its recent slump and if the gains “The Late Show” has made recently become more permanent.

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

  • How Stephen Colbert Got His Groove Back - Pocket

    […] jumped 25 percent versus February 2016 to 3.6 million. But as TV by the Numbers’ Rick Porter noted earlier this month, what’s nearly as big of a story right now is how much Fallon has come back to […]


  • Colbert comeback: ‘The Late Show’ beats ‘The Tonight Show’ in viewers for 2016-17 – TV By The Numbers by

    […] that began in January: “The Late Show” has gained audience this season, but not as much as “The Tonight Show” has lost. “Tonight” is down by 574,000 viewers year to year, and “The Late Show” has […]


  • Late night talk and comedy shows are empowering Trump when they mock him – Daniel Abram

    […] on in the world. These celebrities who host these shows throughout the week have immense audiences tallying in the millions. Therefore, these tv hosts need to make a choice: either have a clean show meant to entertain us, […]


blog comments powered by Disqus