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With the final numbers in, Jay Leno‘s last Tonight Show performed even better than overnight ratings implied. A whopping 14.6 million viewers watched the Thursday episode, making it Tonight‘s biggest audience in more than 15 years.
As for the last time Leno approached such highs, that was back in May 1998 when he hosted an exclusive post-finale sit-down with Seinfeld star Jerry Seinfeld. The episode brought in 15 million viewers.
Goodbyes are good for business. The final Leno-hosted Tonight was up 283 percent from its season average in total viewers. And among adults 18-49, Leno averaged an aggressive 3.8 rating in the key demo. (Still, that does not top the younger-skewing Conan O’Brien. His Tonight finale averaged a 4.4 rating in the demo.)
With all said and done, Thursday’s Tonight Show will rank as the fourth-highest-rated of the Leno era. Bragging rights will forever belong to the post-Cheers finale episode (22.4 million in 1993). As for No. 2, Leno’s 1992 launch beat out his exit (and Seinfeld) with 16.1 million viewers.
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