Scott D. Pierce: Stephen Colbert bashes Trump, and the ratings surge

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 09:34 am

To say that Stephen Colbert is getting the last laugh would be premature. But he's got reason to giggle right now.

The host of CBS' "Late Show" (weeknights at 10:35, Ch. 2) is making a lot of people laugh at his almost nonstop Donald Trump jokes — and getting a Trump Bump in the ratings because of them.

The former host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" was declared a ratings failure when he succeeded David Letterman in the fall of 2015, quickly falling behind NBC's Jimmy Fallon and, at times, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel.

Pundits asserted that CBS ought to flip the time slots for Colbert's "Late Show" and James Corden's "Late Late Show." Many speculated about how long it would be before Colbert was out of a job.

All because, supposedly, he was too political. Too partisan.

"Is Stephen Colbert too liberal for his own (ratings') good?" asked The Washington Post. The New York Post took that further: "Colbert's Late Show has become propaganda for Democrats."

And then Trump came to Colbert's rescue. Seriously.

With Trump in the White House and Colbert going after him pretty much all the time, "The Late Show's" ratings have surged. For the week ending March 10 (the most recent available), Colbert averaged 3.23 million viewers, his largest weekly audience since he moved to CBS. That's up 33 percent from a year ago.

Fallon's "Tonight Show" (which was in repeats) averaged 2.47 million. He continues to lead in the lucrative 18-to-49 demographic, but even that lead shrank to a tenth of a rating point. Colbert has beaten him in viewers for six straight weeks — CBS' longest winning streak in seven years.

Yes, Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah all make Trump jokes. But they haven't gone at it the way Colbert has. There are nights when his entire opening monologue consists of nothing but jabs at Trump.

He isn't telling polite jokes, he's delivering body slams.

He likened Trump's inaugural address to "Lincoln huffing paint thinner." When Trump claimed he inherited "a mess," Colbert responded, "No, you inherited a fortune — we ELECTED a mess."

Colbert hit him twice with this one: "Trump aides were, quote, 'in constant touch with senior Russian officials during the campaign.' Constant Touch, by the way, is also Trump's Secret Service code name."

Three months ago, the right-wing website American Outlook declared, "Colbert's numbers would probably improve if he dropped the hard left stuff but he likely won't. Liberal celebs still don't seem to understand that the ground has shifted beneath them."

Well, Trump supporters probably aren't tuning in. But that hardly seems to matter, because the numbers are in Colbert's favor. Yes, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.86 million votes — but add all the votes that went to other candidates and 10 million more people voted against than for Trump.

You'd have to think that the 54 percent of voters who voted against him would be open to a late-night show that regularly makes fun of him.

And this week's Gallup tracking poll has Trump's approval rating down to 39 percent; his disapproval rating is up to 55 percent.

That's a huge potential audience for Colbert to cultivate.

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