Jimmy Fallon is reportedly under pressure to take The Tonight Show in a “more political” direction in an effort to regain the late-night ratings crown from The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which just won its fifth straight week in overall viewers.
Page Six quotes a source as saying that Fallon “had to figure out a way to get Trump [into his routine] because he’s too weak on Trump, and viewers are going elsewhere. [He’s been] uncomfortable talking about politics, and that’s not what the people want.”
Deadline Hollywood has the numbers—it reports that Colbert’s fifth week at the top saw his Late Show on CBS clock 3 million viewers, compared with Fallon’s 2.92 million on NBC, although Fallon can take considerable consolation in the fact that he continues to win most eyeballs in the key 18-49 age bracket.
However Page Six’s source said: “[Fallon] is feeling the pressure. I mean, Stephen Colbert is now beating him in a big way and he has to change his format to keep up because he’s losing viewers.”
Fallon recently debuted a new segment, “This Week in Words,” as part of his Friday monologue, which has seen Fallon take consistent aim at Trump. The bit is being perceived as an attempt to take the fight to Colbert.
Fallon’s situation is complicated by the fact that many observers feel he helped normalize the Trump candidacy. Fallon had the last Late Night interview with Trump before the election and, as Matt Wilstein wrote for The Daily Beast, “utterly [fell] down on the job... he failed to press [Trump] on any substantive issues even though he knew millions would be watching.”
Instead Fallon played the interview for laughs, even mussing Trump’s hair.
Fallon’s legendary forerunner David Letterman appeared to criticize Fallon in his epic interview with New York magazine this week, saying, “I don’t want to criticize Jimmy Fallon, but I can only tell you what I would have done in that situation: I would have gone to work on Trump.
“I would just start with a list: ‘You did this. You did that. Don’t you feel stupid for having done that, Don? And who’s this goon [White House chief strategist] Steve Bannon, and why do you want a white supremacist as one of your advisers? Come on, Don, we both know you’re lying. Now, stop it.’ I think I would be in the position to give him a bit of a scolding, and he would have to sit there and take it.
“Yeah, I would like an hour with Donald Trump—an hour and a half.”
Page Six adds that his off-trend numbers are infuriating Fallon, “He freaks out over this. He has to be on top,” the source said.
However a source in Fallon’s camp sought to play down any sense of panic, telling Page Six: “We always strive to unveil new sketch material. We have as much fun doing political humor as we do skewering pop culture... We love Stephen’s show. They’re doing great stuff. There’s no shortage of material every night.”