Between the political chaos, the various attacks on America’s most vulnerable, and the borderline vaudevillian antics coming out of the current administration, the array of white men who dominate late night network programming have been given material of an absurd and terrifying urgency that is bound to draw viewers. And while hosts like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel have stepped up to the challenge, Jimmy Fallon has not. And it’s hurting his show.
According to the New York Times, The Tonight Show has lost 21% of viewers—nearly 700,000 people—during the fall season. This time last year, Fallon brought in 3.3 million viewers while Colbert drew 2.9 million. This year, it’s clear people are more interested in Colbert. He brought in 3.5 million viewers while Fallon dropped to 2.6 million.
Fallon’s apparent fall has been buffered by his success with the 18–49 demographic. He’s still the highest-rated show for that highly coveted audience, but his days may be numbered. In November of 2015, Fallon had 500,000 more viewers than Colbert. Last year, Colbert was behind Fallon’s 1.1 million viewers by 364,000. But this year, Fallon fell to 836,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo. Colbert also fell, but only by 8,000.
As the Times points out, it might have something to do with the content of the shows:
While Mr. Colbert follows his monologues with earnest interviews, Mr. Fallon engages guests with game-show-like segments. During a recent episode, he led the actor Denzel Washington and the basketball star Stephen Curry in a game of tossing random objects (a butternut squash, a skateboard) into a basketball hoop. On Monday night, Mr. Fallon went behind the desk to enthusiastically promote the Amazon Echo Show for two minutes.
Huh. Earlier this year, Fallon reflected to the Times on his show, particularly in light of the controversy he stirred when he infamously brought then-candidate Donald Trump on the show, gave him a softball interview, and tousled his hair. In that conversation, Fallon sort of just accepted that political comedy wasn’t his thing—a stance he’s maintained, telling Today recently, “I don’t really even care that much about politics”—and hoped that just having fun would keep the show strong. This does not appear to be the case.
Aside form raising the question of what it actually means to not take a side, it seems that if Jimmy wants to turn his ratings around, he’s got his work cut out for him. But given the state of the world right now, it’s unclear if he’s cut out for the work.