Study of late-night comics leaves out Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaks with Jay Leno, right, during The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on March 27, 2012 in Burbank, California. (PAUL DRINKWATER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
October 31, 2012

Reporters who cover politics and media had their undies in a bunch Wednesday over a study conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs announcing, “late night TV talk show comedians have told more jokes about Mitt Romney than about all Democrats combined since the party nominating conventions.”

The study, “TV Comics Hit Mitt Most,” found Republicans overall were the targets of jokes more than twice as often as Democrats, with the greatest disparity occurring in David Letterman’s monologues.

“Study: Mitt Romney late-night laughingstock,” shouted Politico in its headline.

“Romney is Butt of Late Night,” bellowed Mediabistro.

“Mitt Romney’s late-night problem,” bemoaned The Washington Post . . . and there were loads more where those came from.

From Aug. 27 (which was the start of the Republican National Convention) to Oct. 3, the center said, it analyzed the targets of all jokes about public figures in the opening monologues of the “highest rated late night talk show hosts on the broadcast networks — Jay Leno (‘Tonight Show’), David Letterman (‘Late Show’), Craig Ferguson (‘Late Late Show’) and Jimmy Fallon (‘Late Night’).”

The problem is, those are not the four highest-rated late-night talk show hosts on the broadcast networks.

During the dates of the study, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” clocked 1.664 million viewers — a bigger audience than Fallon’s show (1.613 million) and a lot bigger than Ferguson’s (1.337 million).

It’s the same story measuring the year to date: Kimmel’s show beats Fallon’s and Ferguson’s.

Kimmel also beats both Fallon and Ferguson in household ratings in the period of the study and for the year to date.

And, just to be thorough, Kimmel’s show beats Fallon’s and Ferguson’s among voting age viewers — 18 and up — for the period of the study and for the year to date.

Kimmel’s show was, however, not included in the study.

Asked why not, the center’s research director, Dan Amundson, told The TV Column that the center has been doing this report since 1988 and that “until pretty recently, he’s been a much smaller player.” And while there’s been much more buzz about Kimmel lately, Amundson said, Kimmel’s still not as “high on the radar.” Kimmel’s ABC show debuted in January 2003.

The notion of Kimmel’s not being on people’s radar screen would be news to media behemoth Disney, which thinks Kimmel’s so high in the ratings that it recently announced it’s taking the 11:35 time slot away from “Nightline” on ABC to let Kimmel run with big fish Letterman and Leno. And it would be news to the White House correspondents, who asked Kimmel to headline their last White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Amundson told The TV Column the study was important, because “a lot of [the candidates’] public image gets set . . . by the way late-night comics are tackling them” and that young viewers in particular look to late-night TV for information on the candidates.

The study does not include the virtual cornucopia of late-night comics making presidential-race gags on cable TV — including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” TBS’s “Conan,” E!’s “Chelsea Lately” and FX’s Russell Brand and W. Kamau Bell shows — because of the center’s limited resources, Amundson said.

But if, as he suggested, the center looked at the late-night shows that were “the big players,” it probably ought to have included “The Daily Show,” which, during the study period, averaged 2.267 million people and was the third-most-watched late-night program in the country, behind only Leno’s and Letterman’s shows and well ahead of Kimmel, Fallon and Ferguson.

Ditto year to date.

And, among those younger viewers said to be looking to late-night TV for political news, “The Daily Show” was the No. 1-rated late-night-comic-telling-jokes-about-presidential-candidates show during the study period, with an average of 1.224 million 18-to-49-year-olds. Yes, “The Daily Show” beat Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, Fallon and Ferguson.

And, during the period of the study, “The Colbert Report” averaged more young viewers than did Fallon and Ferguson.

Asked about the two Comedy Central shows, Amundson noted that their formats are “more complicated” to dissect than the broadcast networks’ late-night programs.

Drama on ‘X Factor’?

“The X Factor” creator and Supreme Mentor Simon Cowell, looking to gin up a larger audience for his singing competition (which is getting its clock cleaned this fall by NBC’s singing competition, “The Voice”) left open the possibility of a Britney Spears meltdown this week when the show begins its live episodes.

“She’s been a lot better than everybody thought,” Cowell said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon in re Britbrit as one of this season’s new judge/mentors. He added, tantalizingly: “I don’t know what she’s going to be like on a live show.

“I don’t know how she’s going to cope with that [live] part — but I think she’s very excited.”

One reporter on the Tuesday call wanted to know whether Cowell planned to “address” Hurricane Sandy on the show, which, as we noted earlier, is a singing competition.

Cowell was more interested in chastising Americans (he’s a Brit) for their insistence on giving hurricanes “friendly” names.

“ ‘Hurricane Sandy’ — you’d think some nice, friendly thing is coming along. They should be called horrible names, because they kill people. We should start a petition to stop that,” Cowell said, seriously.

One reporter asked Cowell whether he’d extended an invitation to President Obama to appear.

Which, to recap, is still a singing competition.

“They could both come on and duet together,” Simon responded, presumably referring to Obama and his GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

“They can make up their differences, sing a song together,” he continued. “Music is the great healer, and they will be welcome any week to do that.

“Alternatively,” he said, “we will take just one.”

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, visit washingtonpost.com/tv.

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