Before Late Night Became A Toilet of Trumpster Fire Jokes -- The 1991-2015 Late Night Talk Show Ratings

Written Nauseous of Political Jokes by Bridger Cunningham

Long before late night talk shows became the butt of presidential jokes, the genre became a hotbed of a variety of everyday humor and life.  As early as 1962, Johnny Carson hosted celebrities and discussed entertainment and social issues with humor.  The genre began to expand in the 80's as NBC expanded additional hours for viewers willing to stay up and laugh.  Following Carson's retirement in 1992, the race was on between comedian Jay Leno and Late Night host David Letterman.  After Leno was selected, Letterman defected from NBC the following season and was poached by CBS to give NBC fierce competition.
Prior to The Late Show forming on CBS, NBC cornered the market in the genre, save for odd syndicated entries.  As the 90's raged on, cable circuits and ABC entered the arena, albeit to softer results.  Flash forward to the mid-2000's, and cable outlet Comedy Central became an aggressive player as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report gained traction.  NBC remained dominant in the late night realm, a contrast to its earlier schedule which fell into 4th place disarray among the networks.  Eyeing Leno's successful franchise, which regularly delivered over 5 million viewers, the network launched an experiment by offering Leno an opportunity to host a talk show during the 10pm hour throughout the entire week, handing Conan O'Brien the Tonight Show.
Leno's ratings immediately collapsed, and the Tonight Show hemorrhaged 40% of its audience under O'Brien.  After NBC canned Leno's show, they made a controversial decision and replaced O'Brien with Leno, offering him a return to Late Night.  O'Brien balked at the offer and walked away from NBC, taking his talents to TBS.  Ratings bounced back, but they never recovered to their glory days prior to 2009.  Networks switching hosts exhibited effects on ratings and ranks, with Leno bowing out in early 2014 after 22 years in his post on the Tonight Show.  The following season, Letterman also retired after a 22-year run, and television changed forever in the late night realm.
Please allow TVRG to apologize in advance as data beyond 2015 is difficult.  However, if one wants to gauge how the ratings are doing on shows, just Google "Colbert" and "Trump."  A plethora of articles will populate.

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