When The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuted in September 2015, it was extremely obvious that late night viewers were watching a different show than the one that David Letterman vacated. Here in January 2017, it feels once again like a completely different show, but this time in a more positive way, thanks to rough edges getting smoothed out both on and off the camera. And it looks like audiences are at last coming around to the changes, as The Late Show has gotten as close as ever to reaching its late night rival The Tonight Show.
With his history as a faux-publican talking head on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert knows how to handle the political landscape, and the ruckus-filled election season and its aftermath have apparently been working well for CBS' late night mainstay. During inauguration week, from January 16-20, The Late Show averaged a total viewership of 2.84 million, which trailed Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show by just 8,000 people. The demo rating battle was less neck-and-neck, with Colbert earning a 0.5 rating in adults 18-49, while Fallon got 0.73. Still, the week was the closest that the CBS series came to the NBC stalwart in the numbers since its premiere week.
It's not just about the late night talk show wars, either, although I guess that's always part of it. Even compared to itself, The Late Show has seemingly reversed the downward trend that marred much of 2016. The inauguration week numbers are up 6% over what they were last year at the same time, which is fantastic in a TV landscape where upward ticks are an endangered species. On the other side of things, Jimmy Fallon's less political and more goofball Tonight Show episodes were trending low leading up to the inauguration, compared to season averages.
Further, Medialife Magazine reports the inauguration night telecast earned The Late Show's highest stats in the 25-54 demo to date, and it also had the most impressive 18-49 demo rating since the airing back on June 24, 2016. Now, it's almost definitely not a coincidence that Stephen Colbert is killing it at a point when Donald Trump took over the United States, but only future episodes will show whether or not this was a temporary blip on the radar or a sign that Colbert has become a master of his domain.
Other factors are also in play for why The Late Show is doing so well as of late. For one, Stephen Colbert took a while to firmly settle in as the head of a network talk show, unable to initially balance the tides between his natural comedic tendencies and his history of adopting a different persona for TV. But now he's hilariously in the swing of things, even bringing back his former right wing attitude on occasion. And it was in the middle of last year when the show had a big shake-up behind the scenes, with CBS This Morning's Chris Licht getting tapped as a showrunner to guide the show through some creative changes. Did it all pay off? Looks like it.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs (to growing audiences) weeknights on CBS. Head to our midseason premiere schedule to see all the shows coming to the small screen in the coming months.