After a few years of dramatic changes, the world of television late night has finally reached some stability. All the networks with a major late-night presence (minus TBS) made a change of some sort in the past few years, with some of them completely overhauling their lineups. Now seems like a good time to take a look at the current late night lineups to see how these changes are working and how long they’ll last.


The obvious winner from all the chaos of the past few years is NBC. They pushed Jay Leno out of “The Tonight Show” in 2013, and replaced him with Jimmy Fallon, who is undeniably the current king of late night ratings. Over the course of the season, Fallon is averaging 3.8 million viewers and 1.07 rating in the 18-49 key demographic. To put that number in perspective, it’s ratings are better than the Live + Same Day averages for the 10 p.m. dramas “American Crime” and “Marvel’s Agent Carter” in a much slower hour in the night. Fallon’s run has been nothing short of an unqualified success for NBC; in fact, this summer they extended his contract through the fall of 2021. Fallon also has created a spinoff based on one of his show’s segments, “Lip Sync Battle” and has a ride opening at Universal Studios Florida in 2017. He has quickly become one of the most important personalities to the networks and NBC Universal as a whole.

Fallon’s success has also helped Seth Meyers in the “Late Night” slot. Meyers’s show is currently averaging 1.64 million viewers and a .5 in the 18-49 key demo, handily winning his timeslot among both total viewers and the key demo. With Fallon and Meyers, NBC is easily dominating the late night space.


On one hand, CBS’s late night lineup has been criticized for not approaching the numbers of their NBC counterparts, but on the other, the shows are so new that their ratings are not that bad. Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” has averaged 2.972 million viewers and .69 in the key demographic since premiering in September. He’s gaining slightly on where David Letterman (former host of “The Late Show”) was at this point last year, growing by .2 million viewers and .14 in the key demo.

In the 12:35 a.m. timeslot, James Corden is about where he was last year. “The Late Late Show,” is averaging 1.272 million viewers and a .34 rating in the demo. This is down by about .13 million viewers, but his demographic ratings is about the same. His show hasn’t gained much from getting Colbert as a lead-in, but there’s no substantial drop either.

However, neither show is likely where CBS hoped they would be when they signed Colbert away from Comedy Central. CBS probably thought they would be more competitive with NBC’s powerful lineup. However, both shows are still very early in their runs, with Corden being on air a year and Colbert for only six months. Late night ratings take time to build, especially in an age where clips on YouTube (which create a lot of the buzz in late night) are much more popular than the shows themselves.


ABC has the most stable lineup of late, with no changes since switching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Nightline” in 2013. While Kimmel doesn’t compete for the top show in his timeslot, he has remained relatively steady over the past year. Comparing his February Sweeps average to his 2015-2016 average, he’s down about 13 percent in total viewers and about a tenth in the key demo. That’s not a worrisome drop and can probably be attributed to the general drop in television viewing.

Comedy Central

Comedy Central had a rough go of it since Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show” in August. Ratings for both “The Daily Show” and “The Nightly Show” are down significantly from where they were this summer. In total viewers, “The Daily Show” has dropped about 25 percent in the key demo from where it was in the summer and the total viewers drop was even steeper, at 40 percent. Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” has suffered similar drops in total viewers, losing 30 percent, but has held up relatively well in the 18-49 key demographic, dropping only a few hundredths of a point.

As I talked about with CBS, it’s really hard to judge low ratings for late night hosts this early in their run. It often takes years for hosts like these to establish themselves, especially when following people as important to the late night sphere as Stewart and Colbert. No, Trevor Noah and Wilmore are not pulling ratings even close to their former counterparts, but asking them to maintain the same rating would be an impossible task. If they’re still where they are now in a year or two, then it might be time to consider bringing in more star power, but it’s not time to panic yet.


As far as lineups are concerned, TBS has been the most consistent in a period of upheaval. Conan O’Brien has been the host of “Conan” since his non-compete with NBC expired in 2010, and his ratings are relatively consistent over the past year. Taking a look at one week in Feb. 2015, Jul. 2015 and Feb. 2016, he has gained between .631 million viewers for the week of Jul. 20-24 2015 to .849 million viewers for the week of Feb. 22-26 2016. His key demo rating has fluctuated between .26 and .37. Lately, he’s been finishing very close to his competitors on Comedy Central. TBS is obviously happy with his performance, as his contract runs through the year 2018.  

TBS also recently premiered “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” TV’s first female late night host since Chelsea Handler left E! in 2014. For its third episode, the show scored 675,000 viewers and 0.3 key demo rating. It’s still way too soon to tell what TBS thinks is a good number for the show, but thus far it has brought a lot of positive buzz to the network. 


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