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October 20, 2014

'Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien' Down 47 Percent in the Ratings

by Gary Susman, posted Oct 29th 2009 3:30PM
Tonight Show With Conan O'BrienWhat's behind the ratings slide for 'Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien'? Conan's audience is down 47 percent from Jay Leno's 'Tonight' numbers a year ago.

According to the New York Times' Media Decoder blog, since the fall TV season began a month ago, the NBC host has averaged 2.53 million viewers, down more than 2 million from Leno's 4.75 million last October. O'Brien's numbers are down 21 percent among adults in the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers crave.Tonight Show With Conan O'BrienWhat's behind the ratings slide for 'Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien'? Conan's audience is down 47 percent from Jay Leno's 'Tonight' numbers a year ago.

According to the New York Times' Media Decoder blog, since the fall TV season began a month ago, the NBC host has averaged 2.53 million viewers, down more than 2 million from Leno's 4.75 million last October. O'Brien's numbers are down 21 percent among adults in the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers crave.

Meanwhile, in the same time slot, David Letterman's 'Late Show' audience is up 16 percent from last year. (Though the CBS host is also down among the 18-to-49 crowd, suffering a modest dip of 3.5 percent.)

Conan's numbers even seem to be hobbling those of his follow-up host, Jimmy Fallon. His 'Late Night' audience is down 24 percent from a year ago, when O'Brien was still hosting the show. At the same time, Letterman follow-up Craig Ferguson, who was struggling against Conan's 'Late Night' a year ago, is regularly beating Fallon and has seen a small increase in his 18-to-49 numbers.


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The Times suggests several possible reasons for O'Brien's slide. There's the sluggish performance of 'The Jay Leno Show' at 10PM (which local affiliates have blamed for dragging down the numbers for their 11PM newscasts, which would further reduce the number of people sticking around to watch Conan after the news). There's also the recent surge of interest in Letterman, thanks to his sex-and-blackmail scandal, not to mention his recent "gets" of such high-profile guests as President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton.

Of course, Conan O'Brien has been hosting 'Tonight' for five months now, long before the Letterman scandal broke and before Leno's primetime show debuted. So he's had some time to build an audience, yet he hasn't been able to do so. So it may just be that Conan hasn't won over viewers who prefer Dave or Jay.

According to the Times, NBC executives say they expected rocky transitions for both Leno and O'Brien, so they seem to be neither surprised nor worried by both hosts' ratings difficulties. One wonders how long NBC will continue to be so sanguine.

There is some good news for Conan: he's a major factor in the success of NBC.com, which is now the most popular of the broadcast networks' websites, according to online ratings service comScore Media Metrix. The big draws on NBC.com, according to Media Daily News, are shareable clips from 'The Office' (especially those surrounding Jim and Pam's wedding), 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,' and 'The Tonight Show,' particularly Conan's recurring 'In the Year 3000' sketch. Which means its entirely possible that more people are watching funny Conan clips online in the days following each broadcast than are watching 'The Tonight Show' live.



So if the sketches and stunts are popular, is the problem the host himself? Often, O'Brien seems nervous and manic in his new job, just as he did when he started on 'Late Night' 16 years ago. Unlike then, when he was a stagestruck newbie, O'Brien is a seasoned TV pro now, so he ought to be able to project ease and confidence instead of anxiety. (And who wants to watch anxiety when they're trying to go to sleep?)

One possible fix: hire some women writers. As former Letterman writer Nell Scovell noted earlier this week in her now-notorious Vanity Fair takedown of her former boss, there are no women writing now for O'Brien, Letterman, or Leno. Scovell says the late-night shows are no more hospitable to women today than they were 20 years ago, when she quit because of the boys'-club atmosphere, including rumors that Letterman and other staffers were sleeping with some of their female underlings and giving them professional perks in return, leaving Scovell and the other women feeling slighted and demeaned.

That doesn't mean Conan's writing staff is pro-sexism; in fact, bits like this one from Monday's show make it seem like they're not:



But it would be interesting to know how 'The Tonight Show' is faring among women viewers. Maybe there would be more of them if they saw their own perspective reflected in the show's writing.

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