Four Months Into Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight,' Late Night Flourishes
Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman lose little ground to the surging competition, as fresh hosts, impending transitions and record-breaking YouTube views make the race just as exciting — and brag-worthy for NBC — as it's been since the top of the year.
It's been nearly four months since Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show, and his ratings resuscitation has lost little steam.
Well past the point where Conan O'Brien's brief tenure at late night's most-storied desk started to give NBC pause, Fallon still dominates year-to-year comparisons — up 34 percent with adults 18-49. Last week's block of reruns even bested what Tonight originals earned in 2013.
But the most compelling part of the post-Jay Leno story is how Fallon hasn't really hurt the competition. He's brought new younger viewers, in that coveted 18-49 demographic, to late night. His wide margin of victory hasn't taken away any considerable portion of David Letterman's or Jimmy Kimmel's audiences. Kimmel even wrapped May virtually steady with his showing that month last year. And, despite the sky-high Tonight numbers in February and March, the ABC host still finished the official broadcast season with his best showing among adults under 50 since his 2003 launch.
Letterman, who did see a minor lift after the April news of his retirement, remains down in the demo but pulling in a shade more viewers than he was last year. Viewership across all three of the 11:35 p.m. shows is up year-to-year, but the growth is negligible compared to the younger set. In May, their combined average audiences were up by just 3 percent — while combined 18-49 ratings were up nearly 10 percent.
Late night's increasingly fruitful online efforts are also thriving. In the last month alone, Fallon has clocked two of his most-watched YouTube clips of all time — spanning even his Late Night tenure — with 22.4 million views for "Lip Sync Battle With Emma Stone" and 20.4 million for "Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum-Off." Kimmel's latest "Mean Tweets" clip from May is also pacing ahead of the rest of the series, now at 15.6 million views.
The after-after-hours crowd remains slightly more subdued. And Craig Ferguson's own announcement of his CBS departure left May mostly steady with his year-ago showing. After swiftly lining up Stephen Colbert to take Letterman's seat, the network has yet to make any moves on a possible heir for 12:35 a.m., so its future remains the least clear.
Seth Meyers continues to perform better in the Late Night slot than Fallon during his final season — though he has the benefit of a considerable lead-in. Up 15 percent in May, Meyers topped even the earlier Letterman with adults 18-49.
It's probably still too soon to see any of this as the new status quo, and Colbert's impending arrival will likely throw a wrench in Fallon's well-oiled machine, but it's optimistic news for a genre that has seen ratings fatigue and declining ad revenue over the last few years.