Shortly after President Donald Trump’s victory, “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert seemed to have cracked the ratings formula to give him the consistent position as leader of the late-night talk shows: abject mockery and liberal lectures seem to give Colbert a ratings boost. While conservatives whined about the politicization of yet another source of entertainment, CBS executives rolled around in their piles of money from eager advertisers.
Well, Colbert’s easy ride may be coming to an end.
According to The Wrap, “The Tonight Show’s” Jimmy Fallon beat Colbert in ratings for the first time since Trump’s inauguration in January. In total viewers, Fallon had 2.66 million to Colbert’s 2.62 million. He also crushed Colbert in the coveted 18-49 demo, with a .68 rating to Colbert’s .42. In total, Fallon had a 62 percent demo lead over Colbert.
Last week, Fallon saw his highest ratings in the 18-49 demo since the week of April 3-7. One explanation for Fallon’s newfound success is that CBS didn’t include Thursday and Friday’s ratings for Colbert because the network aired reruns on those days.
In May, Colbert came under fire for a lewd joke he made about Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin during a monologue. After many of the president’s supporters voiced their outrage on social media and threatened a boycott of the network, Colbert offered a half-baked apology. Many viewers interpreted this move as the talk-show host doubling down in his role as Trump’s chief late-night antagonist.
Meanwhile, Fallon has continued hosting a mostly apolitical program that focuses on celebrity interviews and sketches, which has given him a comfortable and consistent No. 2 position in the Late Night Talkshow Wars.
Of course, the ratings drop could be just a fluke, but the writing may be on the wall anyways. Even before Colbert settled in on his nightly theme of relentlessly mocking the president, he routinely slipped behind Fallon in ratings. After all, if his audience grows tired of this latest shtick, he’ll have no new alternative to offer them.