The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien - History - Ratings

Ratings

Highly promoted prior to its premiere on the late night scene, ratings for the debut episode were higher than both CBS's Late Show with David Letterman and ABC's Nightline combined, with a 7.1 rating and a 17 audience share. In comparison, the final show with Leno averaged an 8.8 rating in metered-market households. During the rest of O'Brien's premiere week, ratings dropped each day, from a 5.0 on Tuesday to a 3.5 on Friday, though the latter still exceeded that evening's 2.7 rating for Late Show.

On June 9, 2009, Late Show had rated better than The Tonight Show with a 3.4 rating to 2.9 rating. It was the first time in over eight months that Letterman rated better than his NBC counterpart. Tonight would end up winning week two, however, with O'Brien garnering more than 850,000 viewers than Late Show with David Letterman in the 18–49 demographic, plus more than 650,000 viewers in the 18–34 demographic and more than 550,000 in the 25–54 demographic.

The week before the death of Michael Jackson saw Letterman attract a larger audience than O'Brien, with The Tonight Show audience measuring as the smallest in the franchise's history, "3.3 million viewers, about two million fewer than Jay Leno's average as host." The following week, O'Brien's total viewership was even lower, averaging 2.8 million; among viewers 25-to-54, he tied with Letterman, the first time O'Brien failed to win that demographic since he had become host. However, The New York Times noted that the coverage of Jackson's death had placed Nightline ahead of both Letterman and O'Brien that week. By the week ending August 7, repeats of The Late Show were also beating O'Brien, albeit with the thinnest of margins—the repeats got a 2.1/6 household rating and 2.95 million total viewers, vs. The Tonight Show's 2.0/5 rating and 2.94 million viewers; both were beaten that week by Nightline's 3.25 million.

Although there are concerns that O'Brien's greatest strength, the "young men" demographic, can be more easily reached "on Web sites and cable channels like Comedy Central and Spike", advertisers and network executives alike point out that the first real test would come in September 2009. Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tom Shales also pointed out in August 2009 that O'Brien was "in much better shape than Leno was at the beginning." O'Brien's strength was also strong among low income inner city viewers, and had always beaten Letterman by a large margin among that demographic. O' Brien also received very high ratings over Letterman among African American and Hispanic viewers, which was very unusual for a white host. Prior to Conan's tenure African American and Hispanic viewers were usually split among Leno and Letterman.

By November 2009, two months after the premiere of The Jay Leno Show in September, ratings for The Tonight Show were down "roughly two million viewers a night year-to-year" from when Leno hosted the program. Though cheaper to produce than the scripted dramas it replaced, Leno's new primetime talk show generated fewer lead-in viewers for local news programs, causing a domino effect on ratings for The Tonight Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

On January 12, 2010, in response to the controversy of the late-night schedule change, O'Brien's ratings grew to 1.7 rating/7 share among adults 18–49, up 40 percent from the previous day. On Thursday, January 14, 2010, Conan garnered a 1.9 rating. His last show garnered his best ratings with a 4.8 rating with adults 18–49 and 40 percent better than the 3.4 rating with adults 18–49 Jay Leno got in his last show on May 29, 2009.
To this day, the Tonight Show has never achieved a 4.8 rating again.

Read more about this topic:  The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien, History

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