NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stephen Colbert made a strong debut as host of "The Late Show" on CBS, turning in the top ratings in late night television on Tuesday and more than doubling the audience from the show's season premiere last year with David Letterman.
Early Nielsen data on Wednesday from about 70 percent of U.S. TV households showed that Colbert's long-awaited first show was watched by 4.9 percent of households with television sets.
That's double the percentage drawn by NBC rival Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight" show on Tuesday and a 123 percent increase from the 2014 season premiere of "The Late Show" in Letterman's last season as host. NBC is owned by Comcast Corp.
Updated figures, including the estimated size of the U.S. television audience in millions, are expected later on Wednesday.
Colbert, who had been off the air since December 2014 when his satirical "The Colbert Report" ended on cable channel Comedy Central, won generally favorable reviews for his first "Late Show" outing but failed to bowl over TV critics.
James Poniewozik at the New York Times called the first show "overstuffed and messy."
But he added; "This show may not completely know what it is yet, but it knows exactly who its host is: a smart, curious, playful entertainer who’s delighted to be there."
Variety's Brian Lowry said that "if the goal was to establish the CBS show as fun-loving (a silly bit with George Clooney) yet potentially topical (an interview with Jeb Bush), as another Bush family member might say, 'Mission accomplished.'"
The Chicago Tribune was unimpressed, calling Colbert's debut "inauspicious."
"Tuesday night's debut, so highly anticipated, so long in the making, came off as yet another frantic yet fundamentally formulaic iteration of your grandparents' late-night talk show. There was very little that was sly and almost nothing that was subversive about the effort," the Tribune's Eric Zorn wrote.
At the Washington Post however, Amber Phillips said two things were clear from Colbert's debut.
"1) Colbert plans to be a major player at the nexus of pop culture and the 2016 presidential election, and 2) he's going to take politics and its players seriously."
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Walsh)