Sign of the times: CBS pulls ahead in late night
'Late Show with Stephen Colbert' has a winning streak among viewers
March 2, 2017
Tuesday night on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the host delivered a blistering takedown of Donald Trump’s address to Congress earlier in the night.
On an episode that aired live, Colbert eviscerated Trump’s speech point by point in a 12-minute monologue.
Meanwhile, at the same time on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC, Fallon laughed it up as Alicia Keys did her best Adele impression.
That dichotomy – the growing political undertones of Colbert versus Fallon’s devotion to fun and games – has never been on fuller display than these past four weeks, as Trump took office.
And, perhaps not coincidentally, those four weeks coincide with Colbert’s best run since he took over “Late Show” from David Letterman in September 2015.
Colbert has topped his rival every week in that span in total viewers.
Colbert’s winning margins have grown larger as he pushes harder into politics. Tuesday night, Colbert’s live episode was up 50 percent over last year in metered-market households, and he held a 23 percent advantage over Fallon.
A sharper late night edge
CBS has to be relieved. It took Colbert a while to find his groove, but it makes sense that it would be politics that clicked. After all, he thrived for years talking politics on Comedy Central.
When he first took over the show, Colbert tried to distance himself from his Comedy Central persona. But he never really latched onto a new one he was comfortable with.
Now he has; his old self. He’s never seemed more comfortable over the past four weeks as he attacks Trump. For a certain group of people – largely older and liberal – that’s exactly what they want to see.
For now, Fallon’s fine. He still holds a wide edge season to date in 18-49s, and it’s a safe bet he’ll be able to hold onto his core audience, many of whom watch him as a relief from the barrage of political jabber that now dominates so much public conversation.
But it will be interesting to see as the months progress how the numbers actually play out.
Colbert isn’t the only one getting a lift from political humor.
Seth Meyers’ 12:35 a.m. show on NBC has seen strong digital viewership for his segments challenging Trump, and his numbers among Millennials rival the 11:35 p.m. programs.
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