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April 17, 2014

Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show' Return Is a Ratings Winner

by Gary Susman, posted Mar 2nd 2010 2:30PM
Jay LenoMeet the new boss, same as the old boss.

To no one's surprise, Jay Leno's much-heralded return to 'The Tonight Show' on Monday was a ratings success, at least according to early overnight numbers. According to the Hollywood Reporter, advance numbers show Leno winning his timeslot with a 5.4 rating in metered market households and a rating of 2.0 among adults 18-49. That easily beat the 3.0 household rating for 'The Late Show With David Letterman' on CBS and the ABC ratings (cited by Entertainment Weekly) of 3.4 for 'Nightline' and 1.8 for 'Jimmy Kimmel Live.'

Leno's return had coattails too. Following 'Tonight,' NBC's 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' posted a 2.1 rating, twice its fourth-quarter 2009 average and enough to beat usual timeslot victor 'The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson' by 40 percent.

Leno's return to 11:35 was, of course, the result of a bloody late-night melée at NBC that included Leno's retirement and replacement last summer by Conan O'Brien, his move to prime time with 'The Jay Leno Show,' ratings nosedives for both that show and Conan's 'Tonight Show,' and O'Brien's ignominious ouster in favor of his predecessor. Still, despite the public fracas (which received only minimal mention during Leno's return to 'Tonight,' in the form of a 'Wizard of Oz' parody featuring the ubiquitous Betty White), Leno's first new 'Tonight' broadcast did not rate as highly as O'Brien's debut on 'Tonight' last June. That premiere rated 24 percent higher than Leno's debut last night, and that was during the summer TV off-season, and without the weeks of promotion during the Olympics that Leno's return to 'Tonight' enjoyed. Last night's 'Tonight' show also came in 55 percent below Jay's September prime time debut on 'The Jay Leno Show.'

Still, by last fall, Conan's ratings had slid to 2.0, so Leno is already beating that by 170 percent. If he can hold on to even a fraction of that lead and continue to beat David Letterman (which he did routinely for 14 years until the end of his first 'Tonight' tenure), he'll be doing what NBC (re-)hired him to do, and the network will feel vindicated over the way it unceremoniously dumped Conan to bring Jay back.

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