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.