Late-Night Wars: The New Gauge of Success

5:00 AM PST 03/06/2014 by Michael O'Connell
Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images; Sonja Flemming/CBS; CBS; Peter Kramer/NBC; Lloyd Bishop/NBC
Clockwise, from upper left: Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson

Broadcast TV's late-night hosts are employing aggressive guest booking, corporate synergy and viral pranks in an attempt to generate buzz and draw viewers.

This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Facing a huge NBC marketing blitz behind Jimmy Fallon's shift to 11:35 p.m., the other men of broadcast TV's late-night landscape are fighting back with what they know best.

As Fallon's Tonight Show averaged a big 6.9 million viewers its first two weeks, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! countered with a mix of aggressive guest booking (Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, faux nemesis Matt Damon), corporate synergy (Scandal star Kerry Washington, the debut of Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy trailer) and another viral prank (Live! was behind the "Sochi Wolf").

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A post-Oscar special excluded, Kimmel's ratings are neither up nor down; he still battles David Letterman for second place in the key demo. CBS' Late Show has maintained business as usual, and there aren't signs that Jay Leno's viewers have migrated to him. Warfare is tamer at 12:35 a.m., where Late Night With Seth Meyers easily owned the hour in its first week, but Seth Meyers hasn't delivered huge guests or viral buzz. His only broadcast competitor is CBS' decidedly analog Craig Ferguson. (His latest play for digital buzz was a harmonica duet with Taylor Hicks.)

"Things are going to start to settle," says Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media. "But NBC has to be very pleased with what's been going on in late night."

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