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“Jay Leno Show” has consistently drawn higher average ratings than “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”
Yet media and TV fans tend to be more enthusiastic about the creative O’Brien, and hunt for reasons to vilify the traditional Leno.
Since their shows became publicly endangered, however, this narrative has shifted. Ratings for “Leno Show” and “Tonight Show” are telling a clear story: Fans are rallying behind O’Brien.
When rumors first hit that Leno’s 10 p.m. show might get canceled, ‘Leno Show’ actually went down in the ratings. And since, Leno’s numbers have been average at best.
Yet Conan’s ratings are edging up, up, up … climbing the last three nights.
Based on preliminary metered-market estimates, on Thursday night O’Brien drew a 1.9 in the adult demo — nearly double his usual average. That’s 27% higher number at 11:35 p.m. than Jay Leno, who drew a 1.5 using the same type of measurement, earned at 10 p.m. This is also the lowest-rated Thursday “Leno Show” episode to date in the preliminary nationals (1.3).
NBC research is unsure, but this might be the first time O’Brien has ever beat Leno in their current slots.
NBC Universal sports chairman Dick Ebersol may have picked the wrong day to bash O’Brien’s show as “an astounding failure.”
On the other hand: O’Brien’s bump is clearly driven by the headlines rather than an organic rise in popularity. Such gains in late night are almost always temporary.
Even as reports continue to swirl that Leno will take over “Tonight Show,” NBC has to wonder if it’s betting on the wrong horse. This a crucial point. After a slew of disastrous late-night decisions, this is one call that NBC must get right.
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