Two years ago, the world of late night talk shows was in a completely different place, with David Letterman on the way to retiring from The Late Show, and Jimmy Fallon being just a year into his tenure as The Tonight Show's viral-friendly new-ish host. Fallon's popularity had been largely consistent since he took over, but his current Late Show competitor Stephen Colbert has made impressive strides to close the ratings gap, and it appears Tonight Show producers are going to make some more changes to stay relevant. Get ready for a more political Jimmy Fallon, folks.
To be clear from the start, nobody from The Tonight Show has publicly come out and said that they're aping Stephen Colbert's increased reliance on partisan-skewing schtick to win back viewers. (Nobody is that transparent when politics are involved.) But according to Page Six, the creative team behind Jimmy Fallon are feeling the squeeze from not just an upward tick in The Late Show ratings, but an even more sizable dip in The Tonight Show's own ratings. Indeed, that downward trend in recent weeks played a bigger role in Stephen Colbert's post-Inauguration streak, which saw him winning the total viewership game for the first time.
No one is ever going to say that Jimmy Fallon is on the same level of biting satire as Stephen Colbert, at least not in a late night hosting category. The Tonight Show's (lip synced) song-and-dance man has been criticized for taking soft swings at Donald Trump and other political targets, and Fallon is definitely aware of that fact. According to one of the sources that got this story floating, Fallon's days behind the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live are remembered for his tonal ferocity. We probably won't ever see The Tonight Show hit those levels, but perhaps something a bit more pointed in the future.
For all that The Tonight Show is feeling the need to change the game to keep up with The Late Show, it's worth pointing out that Jimmy Fallon is still winning when it comes to the key 18-49 adult demographic, which is generally more important to network execs. But it's not a very wide margin of victory, and it's hard to tell if going harder on Donald Trump and other political topics will boost the stats enough to recapture the viewership gold.
Keep a close eye on things, as it'll only get more heated in the coming months. The Tonight Show airs weeknights on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET, while The Late Show airs on CBS at the same time. (And Jimmy Kimmel is also on at the time.) Head to our midseason premiere schedule to see what you can find on the small screen in the hours before late night talk shows get started.