Stephen Colbert appears to finally have thrown away the memo CBS issued at the time of his hire. You know, back when Rush Limbaugh announced the Colbert hire meant CBS had declared war on the heartland, and the network responded by making sure everyone knew, via the The New York Times, that CBS “expected Mr. Colbert to broaden his appeal when he moved to the medium of late night on a network.”
Focusing on the brand of bemused horseradish-calling that gets Limbaugh’s knickers in a knot but calms anxious liberals, Colbert’s is the most watched late-night show in the country for a second consecutive week.
It’s the first time since he took over Late Show in September 2015 that he’s pulled off two consecutive weekly total-viewer wins with original episodes. Last week, LSSC averaged just over 3 million viewers – Colbert’s biggest weekly crowd this season.
Not coincidentally, the two-week streak coincides with our 45th president’s move into the White House, and the Trumpocalypse that has ensued.
Trump has been extremely good to Colbert.
The week the former reality TV star was sworn in to office, Colbert’s show was watched by an average 2.84 million viewers – a mere 8,000 behind NBC’s daypart front-runner, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. CBS insiders whisper that, had not People’s Choice Awards run long on Wednesday night that week, knocking Colbert’s show out of the first quarter-hour, he would have taken that week too. At any rate, Colbert lost momentum when he took off the following week. But he recovered in his return to originals, snagging the first of his two weekly wins in total viewers: 2.77 million.
While Colbert has taken the past two weeks in overall audience, Fallon’s show last week dominated in ages 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. Colbert’s crowd is strong with viewers ages 50 and up – a demo that watches more TV, is far more politically minded and votes.
This past Monday afternoon, when it was clear Colbert would take a second week in overall audience, he happily opened his show feasting on the Sunday Beltway show antics of Trump’s senior political adviser Stephen Miller, who is shaping up as the most mockable member of the Trump Repertory Theater.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, Miller had told host John Dickerson, “Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
“Will not be questioned?” Colbert responded, gleefully, after playing the tape Monday night. “Let me test that theory: What the f*ck are you talking about?”
On ABC’s Sunday Beltway show, Miller had sniffed at George Stephanopoulos, “This morning, on this show is not the venture for me to lay out all the evidence” of Trump’s claim of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire. But, Miller boasted, “I’m prepared to go on any show, anywhere, any time and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct 100%.”
Colbert taunted the next night: “Any show, any time, anywhere? Perfect! How about Late Show, tomorrow, at the Ed Sullivan Theater? Listen, if you don’t show up, I’m gonna call you a liar. And if you do show up, I’m going to all you a liar to your face.”
Colbert’s show, like NBC’s Saturday Night Live, is catnip for viewers disenfranchised by the new administration and looking for their voice. (The night after Colbert snagged the largest late-night audience this past Friday, SNL — with Alec Baldwin hosting and playing Trump and Melissa McCarthy back as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, clocked 10.8 million viewers to become the first SNL episode this season to score a bigger crowd than its season opener, which Trump himself, controversially, had hosted, attracting 9.3 million viewers.
“There is a similar dynamic in play – a daily explosion of interest in the current administration” on the part of the disaffected, one late-night pundit theorized.
It’s unclear whether Colbert’s low-bullshit-threshold strategy can continue to attract more late-night viewers than Fallon’s muss-the-hair-but-don’t-poke-the-nose approach. This week, anyway, Trump administration seems to be doing its best to keep Colbert in material: