Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” has officially overtaken Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” in the ratings for the 2016-2017 season.
With three nights left in the traditional September to May season, Colbert’s CBS late-night show is averaging 3.195 million viewers per episode, compared to Fallon’s 3.173 on NBC, according to Nielsen data through May 19. Colbert’s victory marks CBS’ first late night win since the 1994-1995 season, excluding 2009-2010 when NBC replaced Conan O’Brien with Jay Leno midway through the season. “The Late Show” was also the only late-night program to post year-to-year growth in total viewers, up 11% from 2.89m.
There are some caveats worth mentioning, however. Fallon is still the late-night king of adults 18-49. To date, Fallon is averaging a 0.81 rating in the key demo, compared to Colbert’s 0.58, meaning Fallon enjoys a 33% advantage over his nearest competition in that measure, which is the measure most important to advertisers. In addition, it should be noted that late-night shows typically run all year, not just from September to May.
The two hosts have been going head-to-head in the ratings for months. Colbert’s viewership numbers have surged ever since the election of Donald Trump, with Colbert’s pointedly political comedy resonating strongly with viewers in Trump’s America. Some have also pointed to the now infamous moment in September on “The Tonight Show” when Fallon ruffled then-candidate Trump’s hair as the moment viewers began to change the channel. Fallon received criticism for being playful with Trump and opting to ask softball questions rather than press him on various controversial statements he had made on the campaign trail.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Fallon said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “I almost did it to minimize him. I didn’t think that would be a compliment: ‘He did the thing that we all wanted to do.'”
Of course, Colbert’s rise has not been without controversy as well. He was accused of homophobia earlier this month over a joke he made at Trump’s expense, saying the only thing the President’s mouth was good for was “being Vladimir Putin’s c–k holster.” Colbert responded to the controversy during his opening monologue later that same week, saying he regretted his choice of words but stopped short of an apology.
“So while I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be,” he said. “I’m not going to repeat the phrase, but I just want to say for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love for another person, in their own way, is to me, an American hero. I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else. But, that.”