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You might've seen the TV ratings for the 2018-2019 season just came out, showing The Late Show With Stephen Colbert as the winner in both overall viewers and in the 18-49 demo. That's the first time The Late Show has averaged at the top of the 18-49 ratings in 25 years, since David Letterman hosted the show during the Clinton era.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is apparently feeling the heat at this loss. The Tonight Show is usually king of late night, and Fallon had been at least holding on to the demo win year-to-year. Not anymore. The ratings were close, it wasn't a runaway, but CBS' The Late Show gets to take the win for all of last season, and that's reportedly causing some friction behind-the-scenes at NBC's Tonight Show.
According to Page Six, there's some tension between The Tonight Show's new showrunner Jim Bell and Lorne Michaels, who spearheaded Jimmy Fallon's rise from SNL to Late Night and now The Tonight Show. Bell came to Tonight with Today Show news credentials, reportedly to give the late night show some political news heft. That seems to be part of the tension, with Page Six being told "an anguished Bell" was "sniping" at Lorne Michaels for being "stuck in the past" when Bell thinks Fallon needs to reinvent himself to compete in the late night ratings.
Page Six also mentioned two other recent Tonight Show departures. Jimmy Fallon's longtime producer Katie Hockmeyer, who had been with Fallon since he took on Late Night in 2009, left her job not long after her return from maternity leave. An NBC executive told Page Six she's still an employee at the company, but it wasn't clear what her role was anymore.
One of The Tonight Show's other showrunners, Mike DiCenzo, also quit just a few months ago, after working with Jimmy Fallon for a decade. He said he "just felt it was time." Shortly after that announcement, Jim Bell took over The Tonight Show.
Jim Bell has been the "executive in charge" for seven months now, but apparently there's a hierarchy clash since Lorne Michaels is technically the senior executive producer.
As that battle behind-the-scenes plays out, Stephen Colbert appears to be the victor. Remember when he was struggling in his first year? After David Letterman retired from The Late Show in 2015, Colbert had a rough start to his tenure. But look at him now.
According to TheWrap, The Late Show ended the season with an average 18-49 rating of 0.52, just over The Tonight Show's 0.51 and Jimmy Kimmel Live's 0.38.
All three network late night shows lost viewers this past year, but The Late Show lost the fewest with a drop of just 2%. The Tonight Show had a drop of 9% with Jimmy Kimmel Live at 10%.
NBC touted The Tonight Show's social media reach, noting that it's the most popular late night show on YouTube. Those digital metrics may be of increasing importance moving forward, as the entire viewing landscape changes. Many viewers do just click on late night clips the next day, rather than watching entire episodes during their "live" (but not really live) timeslots.