May 30, 2009

The War on Late Night

Jay Gets a Bump, Destroys Dave One Last Time

In the end, Jay beat Dave. Again.

Friday night's final edition of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" averaged an 8.8 rating in Nielsen's overnight metered market averages, crushing a repeat of CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" (1.4/4) and giving "Tonight" its best Friday overnights ever during the Leno era.

Leno more than doubled his average ratings for the current quarter in the 56 metered markets. And for the full week, "Tonight" was up 41 percent over what it normally does, NBC said.

But with NBC long ago announcing that Leno would be back on the network with a 10 p.m. comedy strip, viewers clearly didn't feel the need to congregate around the screen en masse to get a final look at Jay the way they did when Johnny Carson called it quits in 1992. Indeed, Leno's last show doesn't even  appear to be the most-watched "Tonight" this year, thanks to the super numbers his show attracted March 19 with a visit from President Obama.

Obama gave Leno an 11.2 rating in the overnights.

Take out that Obama episode, however, and NBC said Friday's "Tonight" was the show's biggest episode since a 2005 edition paying tribute to Johnny Carson. 

Overnights aren't the most reliable measure of a show's performance, and they don't calculate what really matters to networks: How many viewers in key demographics tuned it. Still, for pop culture events such as Leno's goodbye, they're a good way to gauge overall interest.

As for how the last Leno episode of "Tonight" did vs. Johnny's goodbye, comparisons aren't really valid given the massively different TV landscape in 2009 vs. 1992.

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