Sad as it was, Stephen Colbert’s sobering election special got Showtime a lot more subscribers

Showtime viewers leaned on the comedy of Stephen Colbert last night.
Showtime viewers leaned on the comedy of Stephen Colbert last night.
Image: Screenshot/YouTube/Showtime
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Late-night show host Stephen Colbert took a break from his usual CBS late-night gig to host a live election special on its sister network, Showtime, that comforted viewers throughout a tense, shocking, and deeply emotional night.

The show began at 11pm ET, just as results began rolling in that placed Republican Donald Trump firmly in the lead. Colbert, who has hardly ever tried to hide his liberal leanings, went from jokingly speculating about a Trump victory to soothing a stunned audience as it became clear that Trump would win the White House.

The sobering event drove Showtime’s second-biggest night of signups for its standalone streaming service since the first week of the platform’s July 2015 launch, David Nevins, the pay-cable network president and CEO, said at an RBC Capital Markets conference today. He did not reveal how many people subscribed to the service last night, but said the volume of signups was behind only that of the fall premiere of one of Showtime’s most popular shows Homeland.

“I think there were a lot of people last night looking for the comfort of comedy from Colbert,” said Nevins. “It was actually a very emotional, spontaneous moment of live TV for the last 40 minutes of last night’s show… It was a pretty powerful group experience for the people in the theater and the people at home.” 

Nevins added that he was not expecting the experimental event to give the platform such a subscriber boost. Showtime’s streaming service had about one million subscribers as of July.

Colbert’s special was supposed to be an hour but ran 20 minutes long and concluded with a moving message of unity. ”Let’s agree we never, ever have another election like the one we just had,” Colbert said. “The election is over. You survived. Goodnight and may God bless America.”