Colbert Finally Beat Fallon In The Way That Matters Most

Colbert Nation has plenty of reasons to celebrate right now. It turns out that

Stephen Colbert’s mini-Daily Show reunion Tuesday night was more than just a delightful nostalgia trip—it also turned out to be the >Lord of the Rings sword that allowed Colbert to smite

Jimmy Fallon once and for all.

Well, probably not. But Colbert did best Fallon, at least for one night, in the coveted 18 to 49 demo. Colbert has been chipping away at Fallon’s comfortable legacy as late-night’s ratings king for months, turning the tables on what once seemed like an impenetrable status quo by winning consistently in total viewers. Throughout that time, the 18 to 49 audience—coveted by advertisers, especially as networks’ upfront presentations approach next week—has been Fallon’s stronghold. Is Colbert’s win just a fluke, or could the tables be turning for good?

In total viewers, Colbert creamed his competition Tuesday—delivering a 3.1 overnight rating in total viewers, compared with Fallon’s 2.0 and

Jimmy Kimmel’s 1.6. (That’s 15 percent higher than the same night a week before, and 41 percent higher than the same night last year.) This makes sense: the Colbert team could not have planned the confluence of events better, with a Daily Show reunion set for the same night that news broke of

Donald Trump firing >James Comey.

As late-night’s resident powerhouse for political analysis and topical humor, especially in the 11:30 nightly time slot, Colbert was bound to get a boost even without the

Jon Stewart bump—whose presence always reliably raises the show. But Colbert’s second coup—squeaking out a 0.7 rating with the under-50 crowd, over Fallon’s 0.6, is probably what worries NBC more.

Throughout Colbert’s rise, the main line of defense for Fallon has been his continued influence over a younger audience—which advertisers prize over older viewers. If Colbert manages to establish a winning streak among this crowd, he will take the throne as late-night’s true, unequivocal king—even among those who have resisted calling him that. Colbert was already on a roll before his ratings rose, thanks—ironically—to the #FireColbert controversy, which followed a lewd joke he made last week about the president. Colbert finished first in that episode’s ratings week by the biggest margin since the show’s inaugural week. Add to that mojo a Daily Show reunion and a political firestorm, and CBS couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario. The question going forward will be whether Colbert can sustain this momentum, or if his latest victory is just a fluke.

We’re guessing CBS and Colbert know that his audience is likely to deflate a little on days that aren’t quite so momentous—but it seems safe to bet they’re also viewing this as an encouraging sign that with perseverance, Colbert can take on Fallon in the one area where the NBC host is still reliably No. 1. After all, the cutthroat late-night wars of the

David Letterman and

Jay Leno days might be over, but these hosts are still competitive—and they throw the pizza parties to prove it.

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