Late Night Almost Back to Normal

Jan 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With all of the late-night comedy and talk shows back on the air by last week—with or without their writers—the daypart was looking almost normal, except for the exchange visits NBC’s Jay Leno and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel paid to each other’s shows Thursday night.
On “Live With Jimmy Kimmel,” Mr. Leno said he will leave NBC in 2009, when the network has guaranteed Conan O’Brien that he will take over “The Tonight Show” from Mr. Leno, who has hosted it for 16 years.
Or, as Mr. Kimmel put it: “You’ve got Conan hovering like a vulture above you all the time.”
Fox has made clear it would be interested in hiring Mr. Leno. But there also has been speculation that Mr. Leno might try to dig in his heels at NBC or explore options that include other networks that have never grown as lucrative a late-night show as “Tonight.”
When Mr. Kimmel asked Mr. Leno what he will do, the late-night leader pretended to look around the Kimmel stage, tapped on Mr. Kimmel’s desk and mock-mused: “Ummm, I wonder what this would look like on that side.”
Then more seriously, Mr. Leno said, “I don’t know really.”
The two hosts, who do not own their shows, returned to the air without writers Jan. 2 in order to avoid layoffs of employees not striking with the Writers Guild of America. The WGA is picketing “Tonight” and “Kimmel” and herding the best guests to “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” which have their full writing staffs back at work as the result of Mr. Letterman’s production company having negotiated an independent settlement with the WGA.
Neither Mr. Leno nor Mr. Kimmel, who were entertaining both as guests and hosts Thursday, let the booking stunt that started on “Tonight” and then moved to “Kimmel,” turn into a pity party.
Introduced by Mr. Leno following a segment in which a priest, a rabbi and a minister actually told jokes, Mr. Kimmel said they were the longest jokes ever heard.
“Hey,” Mr. Leno said, “there’s a writers strike. It’s called ‘stretch.’”
The exchange visit boosted “Kimmel” to its biggest Thursday night in five weeks, a 1.6 rating/5 share in Nielsen Media Research’s metered overnight markets. “Tonight” averaged a more normal 3.8 rating/10 share.
A visit from shock jock Howard Stern helped “Letterman” pull almost even with “Tonight” with a 3.7/9.
Later, NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” posted a 1.7/6, just behind “”The Late Late Show” with its 1.8/6.
Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert returned to the lineup on Comedy Central as of Jan. 7 without their writers or the opportunity to negotiate an independent agreement with the WGA. Ratings data from Nielsen Media Research showed “A Daily Show” (as Mr. Stewart has renamed his show until his writers are back) making double-digit percentage gains in young men compared to a year ago and holding steady in other categories, while “The Colbert Report” posted double- and triple-digit gains.
“Colbert” averaged 1.3 million total viewers (up 19%), with a 145% increase in men 18 to 24 and a 55% increase in men 18 to 34.
“A Daily Show” averaged 1.5 million total viewers (off 3%), with a 43% increase in men 18 to 24 and a 10% increase among men 18 to 34, respectively.

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