TV Ratings: Stephen Colbert Tops Late Night With Strong 'Late Show' Debut

CBS' kick-off to its new late-night era more than doubles its closest competition, Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight.'
Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert returned to TV on Tuesday (and part of Wednesday), filling CBS' months-long late-night hole last occupied by David Letterman in May.

Colbert peppered his first hour with cracks about his new network's choice of summer programming in his slot (Mentalist repeats) but that's a ratings bar he easily passed on his first night. Colbert won all of late-night in his first, slightly-oversized episode, averaging a robust 6.55 million viewers. That's more than double Jimmy Fallon's 2.92 million viewers for Tuesday's Tonight — and triple Jimmy Kimmel's 1.75 million.

In the key demographic of adults 18-49, Colbert was also a victor. The premiere averaged a 1.4 rating with the younger set, compared to Fallon's 0.9 adults and Kimmel's 0.4 adults.

Preliminary stats brought Colbert a strong 4.9 rating among metered market households. Compared to the same night last year, Late Show spiked a massive 172 percent. And, compared the show's most recent premiere, it jumped 123 percent. As for the exact competition breakdown, Tonight averaged a 2.4 rating — and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! earned a 1.4 rating

Interest in Colbert is clearly high. The show raked in that number all on its own merits, without any kind of lead-in. Jay Leno's 2010 return to Tonight was the punctuation mark on months of public speculation about the host returning to cut Conan O'Brien's NBC tenure short — and Fallon, who made a friendly appearance in Colbert's first episode, got an enviable lead-in from the Olympics during his first week. (The premiere drew an impressive 7.1 overnight rating and 11.3 million viewers.)   

As for the last original Late Show, finales are also hard to compete with. Early figures for Letterman's May swan song gave the host a 9.3 rating among metered market households — a stat that later translated into a two-decade high 13.76 million viewers.

Colbert's good debut also translated to a win for The Late Late Show. James Corden, finally partnered with his permanent neighbor, got a slightly late start but nabbed a 1.3  rating. That edged out NBC and Seth Meyers' 1.1 rating with metered markets.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. PT with Nielsen's fast-official total viewers and adults 18-49 ratings.

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