The War on Late Night

Jun 23, 2009

The War on Late Night

Conan Says 'Bye-O' to McMahon

Conan O'Brien will pay tribute to the late Ed McMahon on this evening's edition of "The Tonight Show" by airing a montage of some of McMahon's most memorable moments from the NBC broadcast.

Here's how O'Brien introduces tonight's package:

Before we go any further tonight, we are going to change gears here because there is something very important I do need to talk about. As you’ve probably all heard Ed McMahon passed away last night, and this is obviously a very sad day. It is impossible I think for anyone to imagine "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" without Ed McMahon. Ed’s laugh was really the soundtrack to that show. For 30 years Ed played his part perfectly, he played it with effortless joy, and sitting alongside Johnny, Ed was an indelible part of what I think is the most iconic two-shot in broadcasting history. There will never be anything like that again.

Now everybody here at "The Tonight Show" mourns the loss of this warm, and really truly funny man. Our thoughts go out to his family and to his fans everywhere. 

Continue reading Conan Says 'Bye-O' to McMahon

Jun 18, 2009

The War on Late Night

A Guest For You... to Poop On! Plus, Shatner's Salute

Conan O'Brien fans who wondered whether Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would make the transition to "The Tonight Show" can relax. He will.

The comic alter ego of Robert Smigel is set to vist O'Brien Friday, "Tonight" staffer/blogger Aaron Bleyaert announced Wednesday via Twitter.

It will be the first Triumph-O'Brien visit since O'Brien took over "Tonight" on June 1. But it won't be Triumph's first visit to "Tonight": The character has actually made a few appearances on Jay Leno's edition of the NBC staple.

While die-hard fans count down the hours to Triumph's return, here's a flashback to one of the funniest Triumph segments ever: Triumph vs. the "Star Wars" nerds.


Plus, here's William Shatner, lending a...hand to Conan:

Continue reading A Guest For You... to Poop On! Plus, Shatner's Salute

  • POSTED 12:01 AM
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Jun 12, 2009

The War on Late Night

Ratings Watch: Dave Beats Conan, Conan Beats Dave, Reporters Beat Dead Horse

Conan O'Brien and David Letterman continue to duke it out in the late night ratings arena, with Letterman regaining the households lead and O'Brien dominating in the financially vital key demographics.

In Nielsen's overnight metered-market households, Letterman regained the lead with a 3.5/8 to O'Brien's 3.0/7. Letterman's number was no doubt boosted by intense media coverage of his recent remarks about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The 11:35 p.m. picture is much different when looking at demo information, the currency most advertisers use when determining their buys.

Perhaps tired of media reports about Letterman beating O'Brien in the overnight household numbers, NBC has begun distributing data from Nielsen's 21 local markets with people meters to boost its claim that O'Brien is actually attracting a much younger audience than Letterman.

And by that standard, O'Brien's "Tonight Show" (1.5/6) easily beat Letterman's "Late Show" (0.9/3), winning by a wide 67 percent margin.

Overnight demos for late night aren't usually considered all that reliable, but NBC tracked the overnight demos for O'Brien's first week as host and found that they compared favorably to final national demos released yesterday. Rather than let household numbers shape the media portrait of the late night race, NBC has clearly decided to fight back with demo data.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is expected to announce the first wave of casualty reports from the War on Late Night as soon as next week.

And, yes, Gov. Palin, that was a joke. We are not mocking the brave men and women of our armed forces. But if you'd like to attack TV MoJoe for doing so, we'll gladly take the attention.

That is all.


Continue reading Ratings Watch: Dave Beats Conan, Conan Beats Dave, Reporters Beat Dead Horse

  • POSTED 9:45 AM
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Jun 11, 2009

The War on Late Night

Move Over, Eminem: Conan's Got Dibs on Bruno

Just days after his controversial MTV Movie Awards appearance, Bruno has been booked for "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien."

The alter ego of comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen will make his first late-night talk show appearance on behalf of his upcoming movie Thursday, June 25. Given Cohen's love of the shocking, don't be surprised if he makes "news" during his visit.

Other recent additions to "The Tonight Show" cast include Cameron Diaz (June 22), Lisa Kudrow and Elvis Costello (June 23) and Snoop Dogg (June 26).

Continue reading Move Over, Eminem: Conan's Got Dibs on Bruno

  • POSTED 3:14 PM
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Jun 10, 2009

The War on Late Night

Dave Beats Conan: Panic at NBC?

No, there isn't any panic at NBC, as far as I know. But don't be surprised if somebody in the Internetosphere starts sounding alarm bells now that...

David Letterman has scored his first nightly win over Conan O'Brien!

Boosted by a visit from Julia Roberts, CBS's "Late Show" earned a 3.4/8 in Nielsen's local metered markets Tuesday, a half ratings-point ahead of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." The Letterman win ended six straight nights of O'Brien dominance in the ratings.

Letterman's ratings were up double digits compared to the same Tuesday a year ago, while O'Brien was down a similar margn compared to what Jay Leno had averaged.

While this result will no doubt be parsed and spun and overinterpreted in the coming hours, it's worth pointing out once again -- as TV MoJoe has several times in the past week, even when O'Brien was winning handily-- that in late night, household numbers don't matter. Demographic data does.

The thinking on O'Brien is that he does better with folks under 50. And household numbers tend to skew older. So even if Dave beat Conan in the overnights, there's a chance he could yet prevail in the final demos.

In the case of Tuesday's ratings, NBC also notes that because of hockey playoffs coverage, west coast stations actually aired local programming in primetime, potentially diminishing Conan's lead-in. (Actually, I wonder if "Access Hollywood" and other syndicated fare might not perform better than some of NBC's primetime shows. But that's off-topic).

The rollercoast ratings derby takes another turn tomorrow when Nielsen releases official ratings for Conan's first week. Don't be surprised if that headline is, "Conan Trounces Dave in Debut Week."

And the War nobody wanted slouches forward....


Continue reading Dave Beats Conan: Panic at NBC?

  • POSTED 9:12 AM
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Jun 9, 2009

The War on Late Night

Letterman's Pretty Weapon: Julia


David Letterman is bringing out the heavy artillery.

As week two of the Late Night War nobody really wants but those of us in the media are hell-bent on waging gets underway, Letterman has been calling on some of his favorite guests in his attempt to quash any premiere week momentum over at The House of Conan.

Last night, Dave trotted out Howard Stern. Tonight, he’s recruited Oscar winner (and Friend of Dave) Julia Roberts.

Roberts and Letterman spend a good chunk of their visit talking about Letterman’s recent nuptials, with Roberts asking if Letterman’s bride now takes the name “Mrs. Letterman.”

“No, she’s Dave,” Letterman said.

Conan has a pretty big Hollywood start tonight, too: Eddie Murphy. Check out a clip from tonight’s Letterman after the jump.

Continue reading Letterman's Pretty Weapon: Julia

The War on Late Night

Late Night Ratings Watch: Conan Beats Dave-- But Just Barely

The late-night race is getting closer. A lot closer.

"The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" beat "Late Show with David Letterman" Monday-- but just barely. According to major market overnight Nielsen numbers, "Conan" notched a 3.1/8, just ahead of "Letterman's" 3.0/8. It was easily the smallest margin of victory for O'Brien since he took over "Tonight" a week ago.

Letterman got a boost Monday from one of his most popular guests: Howard Stern. O'Brien, meanwhile, lacked major starpower, making due with David Duchovny and Anna Friel.

These are overnight household numbers, of course. NBC (and late night insiders) are looking to Thursday, when Nielsen releases the first demographic data on the new "Tonight." The hope at NBC is that while some older viewers might have left "Tonight" post-Jay Leno, younger viewers might be coming on board.


Continue reading Late Night Ratings Watch: Conan Beats Dave-- But Just Barely

  • POSTED 8:49 AM
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Jun 5, 2009

The War on Late Night

Live from New York, It's... 'The Tonight Show'!

Lorne Michaels is now longer producing Conan O'Brien's late night antics-- but "The Tonight Show" is planning to showcase a number of "Saturday Night Live" alums in coming weeks.

No less than three ex-"SNL" cast members are scheduled to visit with O'Brien over the next two weeks, according to a guest lineup for "Tonight" released by NBC. The wave begins Monday when Eddie Murphy is set to be O'Brien's lead guest.

Later next week, former "Weekend Update" anchor Norm MacDonald has been booked for the June 11 edition of "Tonight." And the next night, June 12, longtime "SNL"-er Kevin Nealon is scheduled to stop by.

O'Brien, of course, did a stint as an "SNL" writer before he took over "Late Night."

"SNL" isn't the only sketch show supplying guests for O'Brien. Jamie Foxx, who first came to fame on "In Living Color," has been booked as both a guest and a musical performer on June 12.

Here's the full list of guests who've been announced to appear on "Tonight" over the next two weeks:

Monday, June 8: David Duchovny and Anna Friel

Tuesday, June 9: Eddie Murphy and musical guest Bonnie Raitt & Taj Majal

Wednesday, June 10: Dane Cook, Steven Ho and musical guest Rancid

hursday, June 11: Norm MacDonald ,Jim Gaffigan and musical guest Neko Case

Friday, June 12: Jamie Foxx, Kevin Nealon and music by Jamie Foxx

Monday, June 15: Joe Torre and musical guest Spinal Tap

Tuesday, June 16: Larry David, Lauren Conrad and musical guest Gavin Rossdale

Wednesday, June 17: William Shatner, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and musical guest Incubus

Thursday, June 18: Features musical guest The Dead Weather

Friday, June 19: Features musical guest Holly Williams

Continue reading Live from New York, It's... 'The Tonight Show'!

  • POSTED 11:57 PM
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Jun 4, 2009

The War on Late Night

Conan, Night Three: Ratings Down, Tweets Up

Three nights in, Conan O'Brien is still dominating late-night-- but his margin of victory is, predictably, shrinking.

Wednesday's "Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" earned a 4.3 rating/11 share in Nielsen's metered markets. That easily topped CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" (2.8/7) and ABC's combo of "Nightline" (2.7/6) and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (1.2/4).

But here's where the nattering nabobs will

Conan dropped another (roughly) 15 percent from Tuesday to Wednesday. And his Wednesday number was up just 10 percent over Jay Leno's second quarter average as host of "Tonight."

So, yes, the late night race is tightening. Rubberneckers who came to Monday and Tuesday night's shows have started paying attention to their own late night lanes again, with some deciding, "There's nothing to see here, I'm gonna move along."

And yet, as NBC notes, O'Brien has still dramatically expanded his audience (he's up 65 percent over what his final "Late Night" earned). Buzz for the show is also good, with O'Brien-related postings accounting for half the trending topics on Twitter at one point Wednesday.

(OK, I admit the Trending Topics on Twitter bullet point is already becoming annoying when used by publicists to explain away disappointing Nielsen data. But since NBC didn't include it in its official ratings spin, I'm going to include it. Cope.)

The most important thing to remember about these early ratings: They're household numbers, not demos. O'Brien may very well be turning off some older fans of "Tonight," but if he's bringing in new eyeballs (of any age), NBC will be very happy.

That demo information, by the way, is set to be released a week from today.


Continue reading Conan, Night Three: Ratings Down, Tweets Up

Jun 3, 2009

The War on Late Night

'Conan' Ratings, Night Two: Still the Champ, but...

Two days into his new gig, Conan O'Brien is still the king of late-night ratings.

While predictably down from Monday's much-hyped debut, Tuesday's second edition of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" averaged a stll-strong 5.0 rating/12 share in metered market overnight Nielsen ratings.

That's the highest Tuesday overnight for "Tonight" since Feb. 27, 2007, and 28 percent better than what Jay Leno had been averaging on Tuesdays during the last three months. It was also good enough to outrate "Late Show with David Letterman" (3.0/7, up a tad from Monday) and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (1.2/4, flat night-to-night).

Compared to Monday's first outing, O'Brien lost around a quarter of his audience, dropping from a 7.1 overnight rating. Tom Hanks was O'Brien's main guest Tuesday.

O'Brien continues to be a boon for the rest of NBC's after-hours lineup. "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (2.1/7) was up 24 percent over its second quarter average, soundly spanking CBS's "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."

NBC even included "Last Call with Carson Daly" (1.3/6) in its ratings spin Tuesday, duly noting that show's 30 percent bump over its second quarter average.

Continue reading 'Conan' Ratings, Night Two: Still the Champ, but...

  • POSTED 8:14 AM
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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.

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

  • POSTED 6:23 AM
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The War on Late Night

VIDEO: Conan's Run Across America

Conan O'Brien opened his first "Late Night" in 1993 with a very funny bit in which he strolled around Manhattan while the entire city reminded him he was no David Letterman.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to get a tour of O'Brien's "Tonight Show" set and offices. When I was in his office, I noticed that on the bulletin board where future guests and sketches are tracked, an index card stated simply, "Conan Runs Across America."

I had a feeling O'Brien was planning a subtle call back to his last First Night, and sure enough, he didn't disappoint.  The video is below.

Meanwhile, "The Tonight Show" is in very good hands, indeed.

Continue reading VIDEO: Conan's Run Across America

  • POSTED 12:19 AM
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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.

Continue reading Jay Gets a Bump, Destroys Dave One Last Time

May 28, 2009

The War on Late Night

Jay Leno

Jay Leno vs. the Jelly Donut

Jay Leno once caught me stealing a jelly donut.

OK, I really wasn't stealing it. I was taking a tour of "The Tonight Show" offices, including the kitchen, and the publicist for the show at the time actually invited me to grab a bit from the box of Winchell's.

And wouldn't you know it, the moment I bit into the gooey center of said danish, Leno decided to walk in. He said "hi"; I just stood there with red jelly all over my face.

Talk about comic timing.

Continue reading Jay Leno vs. the Jelly Donut

May 25, 2009

The War on Late Night

Hanks, Paltrow Booked for Conan's First Week

Conan O'Brien has added a few more big names to the roster of guests for his first week as host of "The Tonight Show."

Conan O'Brien

Tom Hanks and Green Day are set to stop by on Tuesday, June 2. Sheryl Crow is set to perform June 3, sharing the "Tonight" couch with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bradley Cooper.

On June 4, Gwyneth Paltrow and the John Mayer Trio are scheduled to appear. O'Brien's first week wraps up June 5 with "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest and music supergroup Chickenfoot.

NBC had previously announced Will Ferrell and Pearl Jam as the guests for O'Brien's first "Tonight Show," which airs June 1.

If you need a dose of Conan before June 1, check out Lynn Hirschberg's New York Times Magazine profile of O'Brien.

Or for a laugh, here's a correction the Times has added to Hirshberg's story:

An article on Page 30 this weekend about Conan O’Brien misspells the given name of the secretary of state, who appears on some of his memorabilia. She is Hillary Clinton, not Hilary.

And finally, after the jump, a cool new Conan promo now running on NBC:

Continue reading Hanks, Paltrow Booked for Conan's First Week

May 18, 2009

The War on Late Night

Conan Books His First Guests

Will Ferrell is a busy man.

Fresh off his "Saturday Night Live" finale duty, the "Land of the Lost" star has just landed a spot as Conan O'Brien's first guest on "The Tonight Show."

As for music, O'Brien has booked a little band called … Pearl Jam.

Conan takes over from Jay on June 1. As if you didn't already know that.

Continue reading Conan Books His First Guests

  • POSTED 11:10 AM
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May 14, 2009

The War on Late Night

Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien Set

Conan Is Feeling a Little Blue

NBC has released the first picture of the new "Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" set—and it's quite striking.

The dominant color on the set is blue: Blue curtains, blue carpet, a blue bandstand and a blue skyline of Los Angeles at night. The background includes a number of L.A. landmarks, including the Capitol Records tower and what appears to be City Hall. There's also a giant full moon.

As for the mandatory late-night couch, it's not blue. It's more of a burnt orange. It looks quite plush.

Continue reading Conan Is Feeling a Little Blue

  • POSTED 7:30 PM
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The War on Late Night

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Staying Classy, Jay Leno!

Well, that's just classy.

Jay Leno has just announced that Conan O'Brien will be a guest on the final edition of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," airing May 29.

Given all the rancor that surrounded Leno's takeover from Johnny Carson, Leno's decision reeks of good will. There's been plenty of media-stoked buzz about Leno not really wanting to give up "The Tonight Show," but Leno's own actions haven't betrayed a hint of that.

We're still hoping David Letterman will finally come to his senses and say some nice things about Jay—and Conan—before next month's big baton passing.

Until then, Leno remains a role model for how big celebrities should conduct themselves.

Continue reading Staying Classy, Jay Leno!

  • POSTED 12:00 PM
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May 11, 2009

The War on Late Night

Andy Richter: Heeeeere's Conan!

Does Andy Richter have some unresolved issues with boss Conan O'Brien? Check out the latest pre-launch video from the folks at the new "Tonight Show," and judge for yourself.

June 1 can't come soon enough.

Continue reading Andy Richter: Heeeeere's Conan!

  • POSTED 3:28 PM
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May 7, 2009

The War on Late Night

Prince: The Wind Beneath Jay Leno's Wings

Will Prince turn out to be Jay Leno's Bette Midler?


The pint-sized, purple-loving singer from Minnesota has agreed to perform on the penultimate edition of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," NBC said Thursday. Prince will appear alongside Billy Crystal, who also visited the very first edition of Leno's "Tonight Show."

"Tonight" historians will recall that Midler serenaded Johnny Carson on the next-to-the-last edition of his iconic NBC show. No word yet on whether Prince is planning something touching ("Purple Rain," perhaps) or a bit funkier ("Darling Nikki"?)

The rest of Leno's final week guest bookings:

—Monday, May 25: Mel Gibson and Lyle Lovett.
—Tuesday, May 26: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwight Yoakam.
—Wednesday, May 27: Wanda Sykes and Sarah McLachlan.

Leno will reveal his final guest during a conference call with reporters next week.

Continue reading Prince: The Wind Beneath Jay Leno's Wings

  • POSTED 12:16 PM
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Apr 29, 2009

The War on Late Night

Conan’s Retro Logo: Will There Be Flappers?

Hard to believe, but after five years of buildup, there’s just a little more than a month to go before Conan O’Brien takes over as host of “The Tonight Show.”

The Tonight Show

Expect a drip-drip-drip of announcements from NBC about the new show over the next few weeks. The latest tidbit: Conan’s “Tonight Show” logo, now posted on NBC’s PR Web site.

It’s got a cool, classy retro feel to it, with a very 1920s font. Like Jay Leno’s logo, and the old “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” there’s a crescent moon involved. Apparently full moons don’t work for NBC’s graphics department.

Continue reading Conan’s Retro Logo: Will There Be Flappers?

  • POSTED 4:04 PM
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