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Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ Gains Momentum in Late-Night Ratings Race

Stephen Colbert’s newsy take on late-night comedy has been helping him woo more viewers to his cause.

The CBS host won more viewers overall than his wee-hours competitors for the second straight week, lending new credence to the notion that a current-events focus in late-night may have more appeal to viewers at a time when so much of the news cycle is  deluged by White House activity from President Donald Trump. To be sure, NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” continues to dominate the landscape in the demographic most coveted by advertisers, people between 18 and 49.

“Colbert has been experiencing a bit of a surge as of late, and like ‘Saturday Night Live’’s resurgence, he has President Trump to thank for that,” said Billie Gold, vice president and director of programming research at Amplifi US, part of Japan’s Dentsu. “While Fallon will likely take the reign back in future weeks and win the season in all viewer metrics, in this politically-charged climate, Colbert’s numbers will definitely be recharged.”

Season to date, “Tonight” rules the night. The NBC program has wooed an average of 3.353 million viewers, compared with 2.953 million for CBS’ “Late Show” and 2.249 million for ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But Colbert’s broader audience wins make the differences between his show and Fallon’s more distinct. Colbert each night homes in on the news cycle and responds to it. Fallon has for years deliberately tried to create a program that gives viewers a respite from the headlines, and focuses instead on sketches and games with celebrity guests.

In recent months, comedy programs that use breaking-news events as grist for their content mill have tended to get attention. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which has for weeks sparked chatter with its use of celebrities and cast members to do offbeat impressions of President Trump, his advisers and Cabinet members, is enjoying its best ratings in more than two decades. Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers, all of whom tend to base their routines on the news cycle, have made a splash, albeit among smaller clusters of viewership.

The breaking-news routines have boosted Colbert’s program, which CBS has begun to call “the smart choice” in promos that run on its air. Colbert’s show last week captured an average of more than three million viewers on three different nights of last week, Nielsen said. “Late Show” averaged 3.01 million viewers last week, according to data from Nielsen.

“Late Show” captured about 134,000 more viewers overall than “Tonight,” Nielsen said, marking the largest victory margin it has notched since Colbert’s tenure on the show started in the week ending September 11, 2015.  In the previous week, Colbert had a lead of just 12,000 more viewers overall.

 

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