Jun 2, 2009

The War on Late Night

Ratings: O'Brien Off to a Strong Start on 'Tonight'

New "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien got off to a rousing ratings start Monday, crushing CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" and generating strong sampling.

O'Brien's debut notched a 7.1 rating/17 share in Nielsen's 56 overnight metered markets, the best Monday metered markets for the "Tonight" franchise in four years. "Tonight" outdrew "Late Show" (2.8/7) by a wide margin, and beat the combined average of the CBS broadcast and a repeat of ABC's "Nightline" (2.7/6)/ "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (1.2/4) by 154 percent, NBC said.

Compared to what "Tonight" had been averaging in the most recent quarter, O'Brien boosted ratings by 82 percent. He also improved on his final edition of "Late Night" (2.6/8) by 173 percent.

Overall, NBC said O'Brien's debut gave "Tonight" its seventh-highest Monday overnight ratings since Jay Leno arrived in 1992. It also boosted "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (2.5/9) to its best overnight numbers ever.

O'Brien didn't outdraw Leno's Friday farewell. Last week's swan song averaged an 8.8 overnight rating, according to Nielsen.

Overnight ratings aren't the most reliable gauge of a show's true performance, since they don't measure what counts most to network executives: Demographic performance. However, O'Brien's healthy households debut bodes well for how he's likely to do when adults 18-49 numbers come out later.


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