The Culture TV

Do you win in late-night by focusing on Trump?

'Late Show' host Stephen Colbert recently beat Jimmy Fallon's top-rated program 'The Tonight Show' in ratings after Colbert focused on recent actions by President Trump and his administration. NBC's 'Saturday Night Live' is experiencing its best ratings in two decades, likely for the same reason.

Stephen Colbert, host of 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,' appears during a broadcast in New York on July 27, 2016.
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS/AP | Caption

Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” beat Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” in weekly ratings for the first time since Mr. Colbert's debut week – joining other programs gaining viewers by focusing on President Trump and his administration. 

According to Nielsen, CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” had an average of 2.77 million total viewers for the week, while NBC’s “The Tonight Show” had an average of 2.76 million total viewers – obviously a very small difference. Nielsen reports that one of the shows in which Colbert’s program topped Mr. Fallon’s was the evening during which Colbert’s former “The Daily Show” co-worker Jon Stewart came by as a guest to discuss Mr. Trump’s policies.

Colbert took over for former “Late Show” host David Letterman in late 2015. TheWrap writer Tony Maglio noted in September 2016 that Colbert has “proved to be virtually no threat whatsoever to Jimmy Fallon.” 

So what brought viewers to Colbert's show during the last week in January? Vulture writer Josef Adalian gave credit to a “Trump bump,” a sly reference to the "Colbert bump" often referenced on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."

“While Fallon has gotten drubbed in certain quarters for his relatively uncritical treatment of candidate Trump (and generally doesn’t focus much on political humor), Colbert has been pretty relentless in hammering the new president, particularly since last November’s election,” Mr. Adalian wrote.

“The mini-surge in ratings indicates at least one segment of the audience is rewarding Colbert for his focus," he added, "though it’s worth noting that Fallon has hardly collapsed.” 

Newsweek writer Verne Gay also gave a hat tip to Colbert's coverage of Trump and his administration in discussing the ratings win, writing, “Other than ‘Late Night With Seth Meyers’ – which airs an hour later – this is broadcast television’s only late nighter that blasts the president day after day, night after night.”

Colbert's recent ratings success may echo that experienced by NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which is currently airing its highest-rated season in more than 20 years. A sketch in the most recent episode in which actress Melissa McCarthy portrayed White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew particular pop culture attention. 

As for Colbert, Variety writer Oriana Schwindt notes that the recent ratings victory is “not necessarily just because Colbert’s live audience is growing at a fast clip, but because Fallon’s live audience is falling … [and] Colbert hasn’t seen any real movement in adults 18-49 since the election.”