Before 2017, Jimmy Fallon dominated Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel in the late night talk show ratings wars. But Colbert has since emerged as the victor, besting his rivals in overall viewership for the recently concluded 2016-2017 season. Colbert ended the September-to-May season with an average of 3.19 million nightly viewers, compared to Fallon’s 3.17 million and Kimmel’s 2.2 million. (The previous season, Fallon absolutely crushed his competitors.)
Given that Colbert’s rise started the week of President Trump’s inauguration, publications from Variety to Newsweek have credited the CBS comic’s newfound popularity to his stinging criticisms of the president. There’s obviously truth to this. Colbert routinely hammers Trump — far more often and usually far more effectively than either Fallon or Kimmel. Many liberal viewers love Colbert for this. But there’s more to his rise than just throwing red meat to throngs of Trump-hating viewers.