Well, we can now definitively say that Stephen Colbert’s recent ratings streak is not a fluke. Since the beginning of February, Colbert’s Late Show has managed to edge out The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon in total viewers week-to-week. What was once speculation, is now confirmed fact: In the era of Trump, folks are feeling political, and they’re flocking towards entertainment that is tackling today’s political issues head on.
Business Insider took a look at the average viewership for every late night show on TV, comparing their numbers from January to February of last year to that same stretch of time in 2017, and the statistics are telling. In the waning months of Barack Obama’s final term, folks were all about the more light-hearted fun of Fallon’s Tonight Show, with the show averaging 3.5 million viewers across a two month period. At the time, Fallon had a cool million-viewer lead against Colbert’s Late Show. This year, however, their fortunes have reversed. Fallon’s average viewership has plummeted to 2.9 million, while Colbert has seen significant growth, going from an average 2.5 million to 2.89 million average viewers.
The bump, for Colbert, has been a long time coming. In April of last year, CBS brought in a new showrunner, Morning Joe’s Chris Licht, to try and course-correct the Late Show, which was struggling to find its footing. It seems that part of that plan was to have Colbert go back towards the political roots that made his previous show, The Colbert Report, such a success. Colbert has embraced a bit of his old persona again, and it’s obvious that fans are appreciating it. Fallon, meanwhile, has never been known for his biting political commentary, and caught a lot of flak for his slow-pitch interview with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump last September. It appears that viewers are looking for more lampooning and less hair-tussling.
Other, more politically minded shows, have also seen a significant bump. HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, for example, has seen a 68% increase in average viewership, from 1.1 million viewers to 1.8 million, while TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which only launched in February of last year, has made a tremendous 144% jump, from 578k to 1.4 million average viewers.
These numbers send a clear message, and that is that many folks feel similarly about the current state of U.S. politics, and they’re looking for voices of reason to tell them that, no, they’re not alone. While that fact works out in favor of the likes of Colbert, it’s got to be a bittersweet feeling indeed.