Who Needs Stars? Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ Gets Ratings Bump With Political Guests

CBS late-night talk show’s viewership grows double digits when politician stops by

Last Updated: January 24, 2016 @ 1:56 PM

Stephen Colbert is playing politics, and the winner is CBS.

While “The Late Show” isn’t top dog in its highly competitive time slot, Colbert’s strategy of differentiating himself by tackling serious topics is paying off. The new-look “Late Show” has averaged 2.872 million total viewers in all episodes that have not featured a politician as guest, but 3.674 million in each of the 10 that had one — a rise of 27.9 percent.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was on Colbert’s very first show, setting the tone for the revamped talk show, but also skewing the average up. That Sept. 8 debut scored a massive 6.552 million viewers — though the premiere would have been huge regardless of line-up.

Removing the premiere, Colbert’s political episode average goes down to 3.322 million. That’s quite a bit of a drop of course, but still up 15.7 percent from the non-political entries.

The premiere is not the only outlier when studying each Colbert “Late Show” episode, which TheWrap did: Trump’s Sept. 22 episode earned a gaudy 4.570 million total viewers — the largest hour aside from the very first.

Taking Trump out of the equation, the average would be down to 3.166 million — but we probably don’t need to remove this one.

It’s not just the right that’s goosing the ex-“Colbert Report” host’s ratings — the left is helping out as well. Colbert’s third-biggest viewer total came from his third show, which featured Vice President Joe Biden. Down the road a bit calendar-wise, Bill Clinton gave “The Late Show” a boost on Oct. 6 (3.416 million), which marks Colbert’s fifth best total to-date.

In the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, Colbert is averaging a 0.8 rating/4 share with politicians. He’s down one-tenth of a ratings point without. Rounding, the removal of the debut places the two studied categories dead even.

Of course, the older-skewing CBS network tends to fare better in total viewers than in that somewhat-young target age range. Colbert’s “Late Show” has run 29 original episodes during the time measured: Sept. 8 through Oct. 16.

Here’s some more good news for CBS: There’s still a year until the actual 2016 presidential election — that’s a lot of shows. Colbert won’t have to wait very long to test our theory, though: Ohio Governor and Republican president candidate John Kasich stops by “The Late Show” on Friday, sandwiched between Whoopi Goldberg and musician Glen Hansard.

Season-to-date, “The Tonight Show” is sitting above “The Late Show” in both the main demo and in total viewers. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” sits below Colbert in each of the two main metrics.

Reigning late-night king Jimmy Fallon‘s “Tonight Show” is averaging a 1.05/5 and 3.839 million total viewers. Colbert’s “Late Show” has a 0.82/4 and 3.290 million viewers.

Jimmy Kimmel’s 11:30 p.m. ABC offering is pulling up the rear with a 0.59./3 and 2.474 million viewers, on average.