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Dave Bites Conan

CBS late-night star David Letterman took off his gloves and pounded his new NBC rival Conan O'Brien in preliminary ratings Tuesday night.

Letterman clocked 3.4 percent of the TV homes in the metered markets, which represent about 70 percent of the country. Conan snagged 2.9 percent. It's the first time since Conan debuted as new host of "Tonight Show" that Dave has whomped him. On Monday night, Dave had come close but Conan eeked out another win in the early stats (final ratings for this week won't be available until a week from this Thursday because that's how Nielsen rolls).

Many things worked in Dave's favor Tuesday night, starting with his guest, Julia Roberts -- a late night ratings magnet -- and the Black Eyed Peas. Conan's guest was Eddie Murphy, who is also a very good "get" but, let's face it, no Julia Roberts. Conan also had on Bonnie Raitt -- odd choice for a guy chasing younger guy viewers, but whatev.

And on that subject, Tuesday's Conan show included that taped bit Conan had shown to his predecessor Jay Leno on Leno's last night as host of "Tonight Show." You know, the one in which Conan moderated a focus group of old folks but was made up to look like as Mrs. Doubtfire's older brother so they would not recognize him. The old people were shown clips from Conan's "Late Show." Most of them did not like what they saw -- one even suggested he should be institutionalized -- and hilarity ensued. Now, nobody loves a joke at the expense of The Greatest Generation more than we do, but, if you are really trying to skew the show younger by alienating "Tonight's" older viewers, what's with the deco set? And what's with Conan in a suit? Just asking.

Anyway, Dave had several things working for him/against Conan Tuesday night. For starters,
Conan was stuck with NHL playoff coverage on NBC in prime-time, feeding him a pretty weak lead-in audience.

Plus, over on ABC, NBA Finals prime-time play wound up running until around midnight on the east coast. Conan's show starts at 11:35 p.m.; NBA Finals presumably attracts a lot of young men -- young men are Conan's target audience.

Anyway, the last time Dave beat "Tonight Show" in the early, overnight numbers was on Oct. 16 and 17th of '08. The former is the night Sen. John McCain came on Dave's show to kiss and make-up for having canceled on Dave at the last minute to do an interview instead with Katie Couric for CBS's evening newscast. Leno, NBC's "Tonight Show" host at that time, had Sen. Joe Biden as his guest that night. The second night, Oct. 17, Dave's guest was Tina Fey, which doesn't scream "ratings win" -- but Dave was the beneficiary of a boatload of press that day after his McCain reconciliation.

And, just so you know, the last time Dave beat "Tonight Show" for a whole week in the final ratings -- when both were in original episodes, when there was no writers strike, no late start times because of Olympics coverage, blah, blah, blah -- was the week of Nov. 28, 2005. That's the week Oprah came on Dave's show to kiss and make up.

Here's Julia Roberts talking late night with Dave:

By Lisa de Moraes  |  June 10, 2009; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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"Conan was stuck with NHL playoff coverage on NBC in prime-time, feeding him a pretty weak lead-in audience."

Do we still believe this lead-in farce? Everyone has a remote these days. Takes about 2 seconds to change the channel. Considering the half hour plus between NHL game and late shows how can people still bring up this lead-in bull.

Posted by: surgu | June 10, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Conan just needs to bring out Hugh Grant and all will be fine.

Posted by: DreamOutLoud | June 12, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

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