Post-Strike, NBC Even Stronger in Late-Night Race

Mar 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Coming out of the 14-week Writers Guild of America Strike, NBC’s late-night lineup of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” saw a big ratings boost compared with rival shows on CBS.
For the first two full weeks after the writers strike ended Feb. 12, “Leno” led CBS’ “The Late Show With David Letterman” by 49% in total viewers, up from a 33% lead in the six weeks before the strike. In adults 18-49, “Leno’s” lead grew from 36% prior to the strike to 50% after the strike.
In the contest at 12:35 a.m., “Conan” increased his lead in total viewers over “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” on CBS from 18% to 19%. In adults 18-49, “Conan’s” lead over “Ferguson” grew from 49% before the strike to 61% after.
The post-strike ratings surge for the NBC shows represents an interesting coda to the work stoppage. During the strike, which began Nov. 5, all of the late-night shows returned to production at the beginning of January. Mr. Letterman’s Worldwide Pants, which produces both his show and Mr. Ferguson’s, made a deal with the WGA that put their union writing staffs back to work.
Unable to make a similar deal, Mr. Leno and Mr. O’Brien worked without writers for about six weeks, yet continued to win their time slots.
The ratings send a mixed message: Having guild writers at work didn’t help the CBS shows much, but the NBC shows did see a ratings bounce after the strike ended and their WGA staffs returned to work.
In the adult 18-34 category that drives many advertising buys in late night, “Leno” beat “Letterman” by 65%.
And even though it airs an hour later, network sibling “Conan” has posted higher ratings than “Letterman” eight times in the last nine weeks. NBC in 2004 announced that Mr. O’Brien was in line to take over Mr. Leno’s “Tonight Show” seat in 2009.
For the two weeks immediately after the strike ended, “Conan” beat “Craig Ferguson” in the 18-34 demo by 87%.
In the valuable adults 18-34 category, Mr. Leno’s show beat Mr. Letterman’s program for the February sweeps period by a 65% margin.
Mr. O’Brien topped CBS’ Mr. Ferguson by 87% in the demo. Mr. O’Brien also out-delivered Mr. Letterman in the 18-34 demo for the sweep. As he has done in the total-viewers category, Mr. O’Brien has topped Mr. Letterman among viewers 18-34 for eight of the last nine weeks.
For the February sweep, which ran Jan. 31-Feb. 27, NBC’s “Leno” averaged 5.2 million viewers, with a 1.5 rating in the 18-49 demo, according to data from the Nielsen Co. “Conan” averaged 2 million viewers, with a 0.8 rating in the 18-49 demo. “Last Call With Carson Daly” averaged 1.1 million viewers with a 0.4 in the demo.
CBS’ “Letterman” averaged 3.8 million viewers with a 1.2 rating in the demo. “Craig Ferguson” averaged 1.8 million viewers with a 0.6 in the demo, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” averaged 1.6 million viewers with a 0.6 in the demo. “Kimmel’s” lead-in, ABC News’ “Nightline,” averaged 3.4 million viewers with a 1.0 rating in the demo.


  1. i never doubted Conan when he had to go on air without the writers. he was ever magnificent. but i’m much happier now that the writers are back. the whole Late Night team are so creative and talented and hilarious and all things beautiful. =)

  2. I loved Conan during the strike. I think he’s much funnier without the writers!

  3. What else can I say? Conan rocks as always. Thank heavens for him!

  4. Prediction…
    If Leno opts not to retire, he will be offered a competitive timeslot by either or both Fox and ABC. This arrangement would give Leno the number one rated show ( I think his viewers would follow), Conan would be a strong 2 placing Letterman in a difficult position. If ABC made a Leno bid, Kimmel would be moved to the 12:30am slot which would be a good fit for him, I think. short term, NBC drops to number #2 in what is now the lead position and Letterman may find the competition a bit much. Hard to justify paying #1 money to the 3rd rated host. In this scenario, CBS is the big loser. We’ll see. Don’t think America is ready to say goodbye to Jay.

  5. No matter what you all say, Craig Ferguson rocks his time slot and any other time slot on television. As it’s said in the business “a
    Ratings point never came into a store and bought something…” Take that Neilson! Ferguson’s the funniest man on T.V.

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