The presidency of Donald Trump has been good for ratings for cable news of all stripes, comedy shows — for pretty much everything, except for Trump’s own Celebrity Apprentice!
BuzzFeed News has made a comprehensive list of all the programming that’s gotten a so-called “Trump bump,” using data to make sense of different demographics the networks sell ads to, as well as Live + Same Day ratings (people who watch a show live, or almost live); Live + 3 Day ratings (viewers who watch a show within three days); and Live + 7 ratings (audiences who watch a show within a week, duh, you get it by now). It’s in no order whatsoever!
HBO’s Season 14 Real Time With Bill Maher and Season 3 of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver both concluded a few days after Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton — unfortunate timing for those who would have wanted to know what Maher and Oliver thought of Trump’s transition.
Upon their returns — Real Time on Jan. 20, and Last Week Tonight on Feb. 12 — there’s certainly been an appetite for the topical HBO shows. Maher, as is his tradition, presents balanced panels, with a Jake Tapper here, a Louise Mensch there (and, disastrously, Milo Yiannopoulos somewhere else, whom Maher was ill-equipped to debate).
Oliver, from his ranting perch, has mostly been constructing sophisticated arguments against Trump and his surrogates, naming the brewing Russia scandal “stupid Watergate,” while also employing his signature bawdy asides, such as calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “the unfortunate result of Dobby the house elf’s one-night stand with a Confederate flag” (with an accompanying image that’s hard to forget). But Oliver isn’t all Trump all the time: He also flew to India to interview the Dalai Lama.
HBO counts programs’ cumulative audiences, meaning, on the HBO channels themselves, on-demand, on HBO Go, and on HBO Now. By that measurement, Last Week Tonight is averaging 5.9 million viewers, up from last season’s 5.6 million. And Real Time is drawing 5.6 million viewers per episode, which is a million viewers more than its previous season, and, according to HBO, its largest audience since its first season in 2003 (when none of those digital platforms existed).
What more can be said about this season of Saturday Night Live? In Live + 7 ratings for total viewers, NBC’s 42-year-old sketch comedy show is having its most-watched season since 1993-1994, back when Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and David Spade were still on it (and Mike Myers was about to leave). In Live + 7, it’s averaging 11 million viewers and a 3.5 among 18 to 49 year-olds. In the demo, this is SNL’s most-watched season since 2008-2009.
The season started with a bang: The premiere (Margot Robbie hosted) drew 8.3 million viewers and a 2.3 in the demo in Live + Same Day ratings. Alec Baldwin’s Trump, Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, and Larry David’s Bernie Sanders were all featured. It was the most-watched SNL premiere since 2008 — another election year, with Tina Fey appearing as Sarah Palin.
This season’s high-water mark for ratings, naturally, was when Baldwin hosted on Feb. 11. Even if the episode fell short of expectations creatively, an audience of 10.8 million (with a 3.1 in the demo) tuned in (and that’s Live + Same Day viewership, not delayed viewing). With the last four episodes of the season being broadcast live in all time zones, we can expect that more ratings records will be set. And with Melissa McCarthy hosting one of those live shows on May 13, expect some screaming Sean Spicer.
Fox News, the channel of choice for Donald Trump, has been on a massive roll. According to Nielsen, its first-quarter ratings for the 24-hour day were the highest in cable news history. Like…ever!
Fox News is up compared to last year for both the total day and in primetime (in total viewers and in the 25 to 54 demographic that news targets). For the first quarter of 2017, its strong weeknight primetime lineup — The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity — was up 20% among total viewers (averaging 2.8 million) and 19% among 25-to-54 year-olds (averaging 576,000) compared to the same period in 2016. The O’Reilly Factor’s quarterly ratings were the highest ever for a cable news program.
After a presidential election — especially this one — you could expect that a cable news channel’s ratings might drop from the numbers it earned in the months covering it (CNN and MSNBC have both slipped a bit). But from Nov. 9, the day after the election, through March 26, Fox News is actually up 13% from its ratings leading up to the election (June 27, the start of the third quarter, through Nov. 8) in both total viewers and in the demo. That’s for the whole day; primetime is pretty flat, though still up a tiny bit.
The president’s favorite shows — Fox & Friends, The O’Reilly Factor, and Hannity — are all up in double-digits since the election. Fox & Friends has gotten the biggest bounce: An average of 1.7 million viewers, a 24% increase, have been watching the show Trump calls “the most honest morning show” — and where Trump got Andrew Napolitano’s unproven claim that British intelligence had spied on him at the behest of Barack Obama.
In the third week of January in 2016, Colbert’s Late Show, then its first season, was losing to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show by hundreds of thousands of viewers each night. Colbert’s show was about to get the coveted post-Super Bowl berth that was meant to relaunch it, and expose Colbert to a bigger audience — but the episode was awkward and felt off. It did OK in the ratings, but there was no lasting bump. Soon, there were rumors that CBS had plans to flip James Corden into the Late Show gig, with Colbert taking over at 12:30. Those rumors turned out not to be true, but Colbert was still trailing Fallon.
And then Donald Trump was elected.
The week of Trump’s inauguration, The Late Show got the closest yet to the Tonight Show, with a margin of 8,000 viewers separating the two. Beginning the week of Feb. 3, Colbert — who rips Trump in his nightly monologues — overtook Fallon — who notoriously tousled Trump’s hair — in total viewers. (Fallon still wins the 18 to 49 demographic.) And Colbert hasn’t stopped winning since. From the inauguration through the third week of March, The Late Show has averaged 3.4 million viewers (with a .6 among 18 to 49 year-olds) and The Tonight Show has drawn 3 million viewers (with a .8 in the demo).
Much has been made of the possibility that viewers might be rejecting Fallons’ apolitical brand of fun during These Troubled Times. With the methods Nielsen uses, there’s no way to be sure whether viewers have simply migrated from one show to the other. The Tonight Show has certainly lost viewers as The Late Show is on this upswing, so it is a logical guess — but Colbert’s gains are more than Fallon’s losses, so he is also tapping into a new audience.
When Samantha Bee kicked off Full Frontal on Feb. 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton seemed destined to be the Democratic nominee, and then the president. Donald Trump’s nomination for the Republican ticket seemed like a crazy idea! Of course Bee covered the primaries and the presidential race — including looks at Ted Cruz, Bernie “Bros,” and John Kasich — but it wasn’t the show’s sole focus.
As the election got closer, Bee devoted more time to the Clinton-Trump battle, with her opening segment the night before the election being a cautious celebration, saying “a critical mass of Americans find a normal, center-left policy nerd less ‘likeable’ than a vindictive, pussy-grabbing hate Zamboni who jokes about killing his enemies” — she called Clinton “fierce as fuck.” The night after the election, Bee’s cold open featured her high-fiving nuns, a police officer, and celebrating the end of the election with CNN’s Van Jones and Ana Navarro, Fox News’ Shepard Smith, Katie Couric, Larry Wilmore, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert…until she wakes up.
In its first year, Bee’s Live + Same Day ratings fluctuated depending on what night it was on (it was regularly scheduled for Mondays at 10:30 p.m.), and whether it was a special episode, like about a Clinton-Trump debate. But a typical Monday episode would bring in an audience in the high 600,000s, or low 700,000s.
In 2017, TBS moved Full Frontal to Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m., not only because it had always performed better in that timeslot when it had occasionally aired there (behind a highly-rated block of five Big Bang Theory episodes each week), but also because it would be easier for production to catch breaking news.
Since the move, Bee’s show (which launched its second season on Feb. 8) immediately jumped: In Season 2, its Live + Same Day average for total viewers is 1.4 million with a .6 in the 18 to 49 demographic. In Live + 7 for the first quarter, it’s drawing an average audience of 2.3 million, 1.1 million of whom are 18 to 49, and 428,000 of whom are 18 to 34, a key demographic TBS targets. Full Frontal’s multiplatform delivery for each episode is 3.9 million.
With an average audience of 823,000 viewers, 265,000 of whom are in the coveted 25 to 54 news demographic, CNN is having its best first quarter since 2003 for the total day. After the election, its ratings — understandably — dipped from where they’d been in the third quarter and leading up to Nov. 8. And compared to the same period last year, primetime is down, which CNN attributes to the number of blockbuster debates and town halls exclusive to the network last winter.
But January through now, CNN has climbed back nearly to where it was pre-election. (Fox News is simply in another league, ratings-wise.) In February, for the total day, CNN was up 17% in total viewers (853,000 viewers) and 35% in the demo (284,000).
Reaching their best quarterly ratings ever were Outfront With Erin Burnett (in total viewers and in the demo); Anderson Cooper 360 (in the demo), and CNN Tonight With Don Lemon (in viewers and the demo).
All CNN shows are up in double-digits this quarter compared to the same period last year: most notably, New Day With Chris Cuomo and Alysin Camerota is up 27% in total viewers, 50% in the demo — and it’s edging out its formidable time period rival MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the demo. The Lead With Jake Tapper — which really seems to have become must-see-TV with Tapper’s in-depth, sardonic inquisitions — is averaging 1.1 million viewers (up 39% since last year, and, with 289,000 25-to-54-year-old viewers, is up 51% in the demo). And Sunday’s GPS: Fareed Zakaria has also jumped considerably (with 1.2 million total viewers, 317,000 of whom are 25 to 54, which is up 35% in viewers and 42% in the demo year over year). Zakaria recently drew attention by telling fellow CNN anchor Don Lemon that Trump “has spent his whole life bullshitting”. Among 25 to 54 year-olds this quarter, CNN led MSNBC in every hour except during The Rachel Maddow Show.
One of the places, according to the New York Times, that people on the left are turning as a “source of sanity” is MSNBC — and so it’s ratings have gone way up. For the first quarter, the left-leaning cable news network had its highest ratings ever for primetime and for the total day. (MSNBC, atypically, counts the total day as Monday-Friday, 6 am to 2 am — its weekend programming is still weirdly littered with Lockup amid a few news shows).
The Rachel Maddow Show has led the charge, drawing an average of 2.2 million viewers each night, with 526,000 of them in the 25 to 54 demographic in the first quarter. That’s up a staggering 91% in total viewers and 87% in the demo compared to the same period last year. Maddow’s March ratings also got a boost from her (prolonged, or in-depth, depending on how you look at it) Trump tax-return presentation, which drew an audience of 4.1 million, with 1.4 million of them in the 25 to 54 demographic. That night propelled Maddow to its record-breaking viewership for the show, but even without it, she would have beaten her Fox News time-period rival, Tucker Carlson Tonight, in the demo for March — the first time MSNBC has won any hour in the demo versus Fox News since Dec. 2012.
Other shows on the rise this quarter compared to last year were All in With Chris Hayes (1.5 million viewers, up 72%, and 342,000 in 25-to-54, for a 70% gain); The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, up 92% in total viewers (1.8 million) and 78% among 25 to 54 year-olds (392,000); and the Trump frenemies (maybe now just enemies?) on Morning Joe, up 36% in total viewers (793,000) and 21% in the 25 to 54 demographic (182,000). The 11th Hour With Brian Williams kicked off in September and was supposed to go only through the election, but… it’s still here, with an average audience of 1.3 million nightly viewers, 305,000 of whom are aged 25 to 54. That’s a huge time slot improvement of 142% in viewers, and 109% in the demo versus last year. It’s also an example of MSNBC trying to strengthen its lineup outside of primetime, which has always buoyed the network.
Since Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart in Sept. 2015, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for him with critics and audiences. But Noah’s show found its footing during the lead-up to the election, and is currently drawing its highest ratings during his tenure. This month, The Daily Show has drawn around a million viewers per episode and a .3 in the 18 to 49 demographic in Live + Same Day viewing; which grows to 1.6 million in Live + 7 ratings (with a .8 in the demo). That’s up 13% and 11% respectively versus March of last year. The show is also reaching 7.5 million viewers weekly through multiplatform viewing (Comedy Central, on-demand, and mobile viewing).
Chuck Todd’s Sunday morning talk show — on which Kellyanne Conway’s phrase “alternative facts” was born — averaged more than 4 million viewers for the first quarter of 2017 (1.2 million were in the 25 to 54 demographic). It was the show’s biggest quarter since the first quarter of 2009. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2016 — which included the election, of course — Meet the Press was up 9% in total viewers and 8% in the demo. Single-digit percentages may seem like small gains compared to some other programming on this list, but considering that the networks’ evening news broadcasts are down year over year, and all three morning shows are down, those numbers become more impressive.
Meet the Press was in third place behind ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation after David Gregory’s tenure ended — it ended because of the sinking ratings — and Todd took over in Sept. 2014. It took Todd only two seasons to bring Meet the Press back to No. 1, indicating that perhaps his I’m-an-aggressive-Teddy-Bear interview style is more in line with the late Tim Russert’s, who hosted the show for more than 16 years.
Meanwhile, though, season-to-date (September through now), all three network Sunday morning news shows are at their combined highest levels since the 2001-2002 season (after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001); among 25 to 54 year-olds, they’re at their highest levels since 2008-2009 (the election of Barack Obama).
Trump, a longtime foe of The View, has seemingly breathed new life into the weekday chat show. The hosts — Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Paula Faris, Sara Haines, Jedediah Bila, and Sunny Hostin — hammer away at current events daily, such as this week’s Hot Topics “Is Ivanka Trump’s Position In The White House Nepotism?” (yes, they thought); “Sean Spicer to Reporter April Ryan: ‘Stop Shaking Your Head’” (“He needs to do HIS job,” concluded Goldberg); and “Can Devin Nunes Be Impartial In Russia Investigation?” (“He has to step down!” said Hostin). Like, David Axelrod, the wonkiest wonk from the Obama administration, was on the show Thursday. It seems to be working: For the first quarter, The View averaged 2.9 million viewers, 569,000 of whom were 25 to 54 year-old women and 399,000 of whom were 18 to 49 year-old women — the demographics that the show targets.
The View is even up since the election compared to the same period the year before (Nov. 9- March 26). Just 3%! But in these end times for television ratings, particularly on networks during the day, up is up.