Ratings for this U.S. television season have been down considerably despite audiences being stuck at home during the pandemic. Late-night television hasn’t been immune to this decline. A major factor on the late night front has been the lack of interaction between the hosts and live audiences. But with COVID restrictions being lifted in New York, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon both saw the return of live studio audiences recently. With that in mind, how did studio audiences affect Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert’s late-night ratings?
Stephen Colbert’s first episode with a live audience in over a year drew in an audience of 2.32 million viewers on June 14. Those numbers marked the highest same-day viewership for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in a month since the pandemic forced production to shut down, according to THR. Given the first-day numbers, the guesstimate is that the late-night show will reach a tally of 3.18 million viewers after delayed viewing came in. That would actually mark the best showing since the Feb. 8 episode of The Late Show featuring Queen Latifah and Minari’s Steven Yeun.
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon brought back live audiences a week earlier in an episode that saw Jimmy Fallon welcome his first full audience since shutting down production in March of 2020. But the late-night show did return to Studio 6B before allowing limited in-studio audiences to return. While the show didn’t see a significant rating boost, it did win over the key ratings demographic of adults 18-49, a spot where it's been crushing out for a hot second. In fact, it's worth noting that over the past 16 weeks the late-night show has been on a winning streak with the demo, especially after the show returned to in-studio guests a while back.
Jimmy Fallon’s key demo win shouldn’t be too surprising. On the June 7 episode of The Tonight Show, Fallon had an emotional reaction to his first full live studio audience since the pandemic began. Like many people, the late-night host seemed super excited to interact with his viewers once more. Stephen Colbert seemed just as excited with his friend and executive producer Jon Stewart popping up to welcome back viewers. Yet, even with good news in the ratings following the return of audiences, not all late-night shows are ready for live studio audiences yet.
In fact, the big three aren't all back yet. Jimmy Kimmel Live! films outside New York and is still crowd-free at this point, though the show revealed live studio audiences would return when Los Angeles (and the state of California) lifted all its COVID restrictions. The city’s restrictions were lifted on June 15, but it’s still unclear when the show will welcome back a full audience. There has been no word when Late Late Show With James Corden and Late Night With Seth Meyers would return to having full studio audiences.
Seeing Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon interact with a live audience signaled another return to normalcy for television audiences. Hopefully, this will lead to more live television bringing audiences back into the fold, but we'll keep you updated regarding how the ratings continue to fare for the big three hosts as the summer really kicks into gear.