The late-night talk show wars have network publicists working overtime on spin control, as interest has surged since Jimmy Fallon took over NBC’s "Tonight Show."
NBC has kept especially busy crunching the numbers, with Fallon dominating the late-night landscape during NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, and — so far, at least — maintaining his lead over rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel during this week’s post-Olympics cooldown.
But on Thursday night it was ABC’s "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that surged in the ratings — not enough to catch Fallon, but enough to move into second place ahead of Letterman.
ABC was eager to point out that Kimmel had closed the gap on Fallon, noting in a press release: "Posting its closest finish yet in both total viewers [and] Adults 18-49, ‘JKL’ delivered its best results since competing with NBC’s ‘Fallon,’ while the new NBC program fell to its lowest numbers of the past 9 days."
The Nielsen ‘live plus same day" Fast Nationals for Thursday night look like this:
NBC’s "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon": 4.456 million total viewers
ABC’s "Jimmy Kimmel Live": 3.559 million
CBS’s "Late Show with David Letterman": 2.710 million
NBC contrasted Fallon’s result with the track record piled up by his predecessor on "Tonight," Jay Leno. The NBC press release noted that Fallon’s Thursday show was "up 24% versus ‘Tonight’s’ Thursday average this season prior to Jay Leno’s finale (4.456 million vs. 3.603 million, L+SD)." Of course NBC also noted that Fallon’s numbers topped both Kimmel and Letterman.
Meanwhile, ABC’s release pumped up the growth factor for "Kimmel," reporting: "On Thursday, February 27, 2014, ABC’s ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ catapulted over Wednesday by 45% in Total Viewers (3.559 million vs. 2.456 million) to score its 2nd-most-watched telecast ever on any night in late-night, behind only the Matt Damon takeover episode (on 1/24/13). In addition, ‘JKL’ grew day to day by 94% in Adults 18-49 (1.214 million vs. 625,000) to its best performance in nearly 3 months — since 12/5/13."
Both ABC and NBC found it worth mentioning who was on Kimmel’s show Thursday. ABC included a straightforward note, reporting: "Thursday’s ‘JKL’ featured Kerry Washington, Michael Strahan and musical guest Juicy J featuring Wiz Khalifa."
NBC, meanwhile, added what sounded like a disclaimer after reporting the numbers for Fallon, Kimmel and Letterman: "Note ‘Kimmel’ featured guest Kerry Washington of ‘Scandal,’ ABC’s 10 p.m. series that delivered a dominant ratings win in that slot last night."