Crunching the Numbers to Size Up Whether NBC Was Wise to Return Leno to Late-Night–And How Badly the Network Was Damaged by Leno’s Prime-Time Flop

Oct 1, 2010  •  Post A Comment

Bill Carter of The New York Times examines whether it was worth it for NBC to return Jay Leno to the "Tonight Show," and finds that the first week of the new season’s ratings suggests that it was–by a hair.

"By the simplest of standards, NBC got something from Mr. Leno in premiere week that it did not get from Conan O’Brien, the host it decided was not cutting it last fall: a ratings win over David Letterman on CBS," Carter writes.

Leno scored a 1.0 rating with viewers 18 to 49 years old, just 0.1 higher than Letterman’s rating. When one considers total viewers, however, the ratings become even closer. Leno beat Letterman by just 15,000 viewers for the week.

The biggest question, however, may be whether Leno’s temporary stint in prime time inflicted long-term damage on the late-night host, Carter points out. After all, Leno’s ratings are down from his results two years ago, with his late-night show pulling in a 1.3 rating among viewers 18 to 49 in 2008’s premiere week, the story says.

And among total viewers, Leno has lost about 1 million, a decline of about 20%. Letterman, meanwhile, has only 162,000 fewer viewers than two years ago, the story says.


  1. Viewing is down in all dayparts because broadcast TV is perceptibly dying, albeit slowly. The relevant question is, does Leno bring something that Conan could not? Yes, unlike Conan, Leno has the ability to beat Letterman. The margin is irrelevant. NBC draws a larger audience.
    Carson retired at 67. Letterman and Leno are 63 and 60. Let’s hope they both get put out to pasture soon.

  2. Leno lost a slew of well-wishers who now see him as an all-around bad guy. Regardless of the ratings, Leno has suffered a huge loss on a personal level. It wasn’t worth it.

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