Ever since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, a late-night shift has been underway that has seen “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” regularly beat “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in the ratings when it comes to total viewers, after “Tonight” consistently thrashed “The Late Show” ever since Stephen Colbert took over from David Letterman in September 2015.
Could this be the result of Jimmy Fallon’s universally derided interview with Donald Trump back in September? That’s what many are theorizing now that Colbert is now the late-night champ (in total viewers, at least), but what isn’t a theory is that Fallon’s interview with Trump cost him some credibility.
One could make the argument that “Saturday Night Live” could also be taken to task for bringing Trump on as host following his candidacy announcement, but there’s a big difference: when Trump hosted “SNL”, his campaign was widely considered to be a joke that few took seriously. When he appeared on “Tonight”, however, he had vanquished his opponents and locked up the Republican nomination. And instead of asking tough questions about his campaign, Fallon instead lobbed softballs and famously mussed up his hair.
In any case, Fallon was widely lambasted on social media for the interview, notes The Huffington Post, with many feeling he had squandered an opportunity to hold the candidate’s feet to the fire on some of his more controversial platforms, such as repealing Obamacare, building a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border and his proposed Muslim registry.
Meanwhile, Colbert’s comedic attacks on Trump became sharper and more focused, which has clearly not been a bad thing in terms of ratings, since “The Late Show” just wrapped up its third consecutive week as the most-watched late-night talk show.
Last week, for example, “The Late Show” averaged 3 million viewers, while “Tonight” had dropped to 2.7 million. While it’s difficult to determine how much of this is due to the hosts’ respective treatment of Trump, “it is also hard to ignore that Fallon has lost an average of 500,000 viewers a night between the week of Fallon’s interview with Trump and this last one,” notes The Huffington Post, “just as it is hard to ignore that Colbert has gained 850,000.”
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT on Global. You can also watch full episodes online.