The past year of pop culture has been has been marked by many elements, with Donald Trump's presidency taking precedence over most topics. That accounts for some scripted TV, to be sure, but the world of late night talk shows was impacted as much as anything else outside of the 24-hour cable news sector. Which means the "friendly" ratings rivalry between late night staples Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert got all the more intense in the past year, with both shows seeing noteworthy shifts in the ratings. Here's how it played out on both sides.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon bears the brunt of the bad news on this point, with the iconic NBC series losing roughly 700,000 viewers from the Fall 2016 season to the Fall 2017 season. While Jimmy Fallon could boast being the ratings champ in the pre-Election era with an average of 3.3 million viewers a night, the same cannot be said a year later, with an audience that has drooped down to around 2.6 million viewers per episode.
Meanwhile, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has managed to see some major improvements in its own viewership numbers. A year ago, the Late Show was trailing The Tonight Show in total viewers by 400,000, but Stephen Colbert's audience jumped up from 2.9 million to 3.5 million, which not only tops Jimmy Fallon's current numbers, but also his numbers from last year. And for a third comparison point, Jimmy Kimmel Live! gained a decimal point in the past year, with its audience rising from 2.3 million viewers to 2.4 million. So Jimmy Kimmel has almost caught up with Fallon as well in that respect.
Interestingly, while Stephen Colbert's all-around viewership grew by around 600,000 people, his audience within the key 18-49 age demographic dropped, as it did for The Tonight Show (and Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Granted, Jimmy Fallon is still edging Colbert out in the key demo, a stat that The Late Show has yet to fully conquer. But The Late Show's demo audience only lost around 8,000 people (from 754,000 to 746,000), while The Tonight Show crowd dipped by around 264,000 (from 1.1 million to 836,000). And as the _New York Times _reports, the November sweeps period ended with Colbert getting as close as ever to Fallon's demo rating, coming within 57,000 viewers.
While The Tonight Show is always good for fun and silly viral videos, much attention has been placed on how much late night is adding to the political conversation, with Fallon's easygoing approach coming under fire. Colbert very overtly aimed harder at politics in the months after the election and, later, Donald Trump's inauguration. And whatever one's personal views are about what late night subject matter should or shouldn't be, the ratings are making it clear that more viewers are interested in political humor for the time being.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weekday nights on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET, while The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs during the same timeslot on CBS. For those looking to watch more TV of the scripted variety, head to our fall TV premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason premiere schedule to see what's on the way.