Conan Debut Good, But No Leno Swan Song

Jay Leno beat Conan O'Brien on "The Tonight Show," according to early stats.

In the metered markets, representing about 70 percent of the country, Conan's first night as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" clocked a 7.1 rating and a 17 share in preliminary over night numbers which, sadly, are all that's available from Nielsen until a week from this Thursday. I know, I know....

That means 7.1 percent of the TV homes in those markets were tuned to Conan after their NBC local newscasts -- and 17 percent of the TV homes in those markets in which people were actually still awake and watching TV.

Meanwhile, Leno's final night, the previous Friday, logged an 8.8 rating and a 20 share in those same markets, meaning he attracted nearly 9 percent of those markets's TV homes, and 20 percent of the homes in which people were up and watching television. Here's a bit of irony: Leno's guest on his final night: Conan O'Brien.

Fair to say that when Nielsen gets around to issuing final numbers, Leno's last "Tonight Show" gig will have attracted more viewers than did Conan's debut. But, of course, Conan will be back tonight, and tomorrow and the next night, whereas Friday was your very last chance to catch Leno hosting the iconic NBC show.

Anyway, Conan's debut it still the highest overnight metered market household rating for a Monday "Tonight" show in more than four years. And, NBC points out, it's the seventh-highest Monday for the franchise, according to early stats, since Jay Leno took over as host on May 25, 1992. Yes, that means Jay did better on Monday six times. That includes Jan. 24, 2005, the night Leno paid tribute to the late Johnny Carson --and the most recent Monday "Tonight" to rate higher than Conan's debut. Carson, in case you've just come out from under a flat rock, was host of "Tonight Show" before Jay and considered by many to have been the show's best host ever.

Happily, Conan was up last night by 173 percent versus his final telecast of "Late Night" on Feb. 20 -- that final show had clocked just 2.6 percent of the TV homes in those metered markets. This surge is a relief, because there are a lot fewer homes using TV around 12:30 a.m.-ish, when "Late Night" airs, than at 11:35 p.m. when "Tonight Show" kicks off. Had Conan copped a smaller audience last night than the gathering for his swan song as host of "Late Night," NBC would have a big problem on its hands.

Conan's first guest on his NBC Universal show was Will Ferrell, plugging his new NBC Universal flick, "Land of the Lost."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  June 2, 2009; 9:33 AM ET TV News
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So Leno's going to 10pm M-F. Is this going to be 52 weeks a year? What happens when he takes a day off? Re-runs? Guest host? This doesn't seem very well thought out.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | June 2, 2009 4:32 PM

It seemed to work for 17 years. Not sure why it wouldn't work now, Jimbo. Leno's pretty consistent, doesn't really take a day off. Could change TV, too.

Posted by: zeq2m9 | June 3, 2009 11:35 AM

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