Others in the late-night arena make ratings noise now and then, but no one has been able to match the consistency and dominance of Jimmy Fallon, who has completed two triumphant years as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
Since bowing in February 2014, Fallon, who will celebrate his “Tonight Show” anniversary with a primetime special on Sunday and a week of episodes originating from Los Angeles next week, has delivered the program’s top two-rated seasons in the last six years in both adults 18-49 and total viewers.
While CBS has improved its late-night ratings fortunes over the last five months with new “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, Fallon hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, his 18-49 average through five weeks of 2016 (1.01 rating in Nielsen’s “most current” averages) is the same as a year ago when the lower-rated David Letterman fronted the “Late Show” franchise.
In the fourth quarter of 2015, Fallon beat Colbert by a 43% ratings margin in adults 18-49 (1.14 vs. 0.80) and a 23% advantage in total viewers (4.0 million vs. 3.3 million), according to Nielsen’s “live plus-7” estimates. And in “most current” numbers for the first quarter to date this year, those margins have increased to 74% in the demo (1.01 vs. 0.58) and 37% in overall audience (3.6 million vs. 2.7 million).
Fallon has also increased his advantage over ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” up in 18-49 by 102% in the first quarter of 2016 (1.01 vs. 0.50) vs. 74% a year ago. In total viewers, Fallon has grown its advantage from 43% a year ago to 65% this quarter.
It remains to be seen if Colbert, who last Sunday became the first late-night talk show host to air an episode immediately after a network’s coverage of the Super Bowl, can make up any ratings ground. After spiking on Monday of this week — pulling closer to Fallon in 18-49 and moving ahead in total viewers — the “Late Show” fell back to more typical ratings levels on Tuesday night and placed behind both Fallon (whose guests included Ryan Reynolds, pictured) and Kimmel in preliminary demo numbers.
To date, Fallon has defeated Colbert among adults 18-49 in all 21 weeks they’ve gone head to head. And in total viewers, the NBC host has prevailed in 20 of 21 weeks, losing only to Colbert in his premiere week last September.
On Sunday, Fallon will host “The Tonight Show Valentine’s Day Special,” a celebration of the show’s second anniversary with a compilation of some of the best moments, including celebrity interviews, comedy sketches and games. It will air from 9 to 11.
And next week will mark the second time that Fallon has brought “Tonight” out West for a week of episodes, having done so last February to strong ratings returns. Among his scheduled guests next week are Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jennifer Lopez, Ronda Rousey and Ryan Seacrest. Also, musical acts Zayn and Dead & Company will both make their television debuts.