The Return of ‘Stephen Colbert’ and Jon Stewart Gives Late Show a Ratings Boost

Going live post-RNC pays off for CBS

Headshot of Jason Lynch

CBS had hoped that its decision to broadcast The Late Show with Stephen Colbert live during both political convention weeks would give the show the boost in ratings and buzz that it's been seeking for months. Last night, the return of two longtime Comedy Central pals—his Colbert Report alter ego and Jon Stewart—helped the program do just that.

Monday night's Late Show live broadcast beat its competitors in the 56 overnight metered markets with a 2.1 rating, its best overnight household rating since May 10. That put it ahead of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2.0) and Jimmy Kimmel Live (1.5).

Late Show, which is broadcasting live during both political conventions, averaged a 0.5 rating in the 18-49 demo in the 25 local people meter markets. It was the show's best rating since Feb. 15, but still wasn't enough to overtake The Tonight Show, which had a 0.7.

These ratings will be updated later today when national ratings are available. Season to date, Late Show is averaging a 0.62 in 18-49, with 2.8 million viewers overall, which is well behind The Tonight Show (a 1.01 rating and 3.7 million total viewers). Kimmel is in third place with a 0.56 demo rating and 2.4 million total viewers.

During Monday's show, Colbert reached out to Jon Stewart to help him make sense of Donald Trump's candidacy, but found an old friend instead:

That led to Colbert's first Colbert Report-esque segment since he retired the character in December 2014 on Comedy Central. "Hello, Nation! Did you miss me? I know I did!" said the faux Colbert, before comparing himself to Trump, "we're both over the top TV personalities who decided to run for President!" and discussing tonight's "word": Trumpiness.

The Late Show, which has been trying to gain late-night momentum, has been playing more to Colbert's strengths ever since CBS This Morning executive producer Chris Licht was named showrunner in April.

Earlier this year, Colbert told Adweek that he absolutely did not miss his Colbert Report persona since moving from Comedy Central to CBS. "When I first started interviewing people, like when I had Jeb [Bush] or [Donald] Trump or [Ted] Cruz on, he'd sit on my shoulder, like the devil on my shoulder. And he would say, 'Let me do this one. I can make every sentence a joke.' I just wouldn't let him out. I went in the opposite direction. One of the things that I enjoy about the [Late] Show is there is no obligation for me to have a sword and shield. I'm so happy to lay that thing down by the riverside. So, it was easy for me to tell him to go away."

This was the second Late Show appearance by Stewart, who is an executive producer on the show and is "a constant resource," as Colbert told Adweek. "Because our head is in it so much, he is someone who I trust completely. He understands me and my personal process and also understands the flaming toboggan ride that is doing a nightly show."

While Stewart has mostly remained behind the scenes, he did make a surprise Late Show appearance on Dec. 10, as part of his (successful) campaign to get Congress to renew the Zadroga Act, which authorizes health benefits to 9/11 first responders.

Colbert told Adweek he wishes he could do every night live. "The energy is fantastic," he said. "If I didn't have to stay up until 11:35 to do it, I would do it every day."

While Colbert is broadcasting the live telecasts from his Ed Sullivan Theater home in New York, on Sunday he did make it out to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the Republican National Convention, to film a segment at the Republican National Convention dressed as Julius Flickerman, whom Colbert says is the brother of Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games.

The Late Show is the only late-night show broadcasting live during both convention weeks, but both The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Late Night with Seth Meyers will air live broadcasts following each convention's final night: this Thursday and next Thursday. Meanwhile, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which airs on Mondays, will head to Cleveland and broadcast its first special episode, A Very Special Full Frontal Special, Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.

Adweek will be covering the 2016 Republican and Democratic Political Conventions over the next two weeks. Check back for coverage here and on Adweek Blog Network sites, TVNewser and TVSpy.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.