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The Winner Of The War For Late Night Is Leno

I may still be Team Coco in my heart, but the depressing fact of the matter is that the War for Late Night is over, and NBC seems to have made the right decision in returning Jay Leno to the Tonight show, if you’re only looking at the ratings.

Deadline reports that not only did Tonight hit season-high ratings this week, but that the show is a staggering 52% up in total viewers compared with last year’s (Conan) season, with David Letterman’s The Late Show down 15% in the same comparison. For anyone who’s read Bill Carter’s great book The War for Late Night, it’s sad to see that the ratings-led logic that pushed NBC to kick Conan out of Tonight in favor of returning Leno seems to have… well, paid off, kind of.


  • Sijo

    It’s Sad? More like, it validates the notion that NBC SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN DUMB ENOUGH TO MESS WITH A CURRENT HIT IN THE FIRST PLACE. I have nothing against Conan and I wish him well, but in the end, making money *is* the point, even for Leno and Conan (and btw, didn’t Conan earn like 40 million dollars out of the deal? Hard to feel; sorry for him that way.)

    Oh, and if a show has good ratings, it means LOTS OF PEOPLE LIKE IT. So you can’t even say this hurts the audience. Come on.

  • Butch

    @Sijo- Looks like we’ve got a Leno Lover on our hands…

  • Gianluca

    I love Conan but this is not surprising. While I personally enjoy his sense of humor and style, it’s definitely not for a mainstream, older audience that sits at home and watches the Tonight Show at 10:30/11:30 at night. A 60 year old would rather see Jay talking to dumb people on the street rather the Masterbating Bear or In the Year 2000.

  • Flip

    Sure, but advertisers don’t care about 60 year olds — as sad as that fact may be.

  • Jared

    I loved it the way it was. I hadn’t watched too much late night for a while when this whole firing and 10:00 stuff happened, but when I had I thought it was great the way it was. Jay was at 11:35. Conan was 12:35 and it didn’t need to change. If you didn’t like it you could watch Dave I guess or read a book. You get the point. Sometimes you don’t need move stuff, especially when it’s doing so well where it is.

  • Gregg

    “btw, didn’t Conan earn like 40 million dollars out of the deal? Hard to feel; sorry for him that way.”

    At the end of the day, I don’t care how much money he made out of it. Conan getting screwed out of his spot on the schedule caused me to not be able to watch Conan for months. THAT’S what I care about and I blame NBC completely.

  • Anonymous

    The advertisers care about the 18-49 Demo you are correct. Which Jay is pulling a 1.1 in that press release. Conan is now down to a 0.7 in his new shows Demo when many were already touting huge victory a week in to his debut in November. Looking at the ratings, Conan is now pulling a 1.3 million viewership compared to Stewarts 1.7 and Adult swims 1.9 million. Now I know what I’ll hear something like “TBS is cable!” Be that as it may, TBS is in 100 million out of 115 million households is pretty darn widely in homes.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you assume all Tonight Show viewers are old?? The 18-49 Demo Jay is pulling is higher than Dave, Kimmell, Nightline(if you count the Tonight Shows half hour only). It beats Stewart, Colbert, and now Conan.

    One thing I do agree with is Conan is a nitche humor guy, something broad appeal of a Tonight Show host can’t get. Most of his own fans said he was better ta 12:35. At least somebody like Ferguson says he wants to stay at 12:35 and entertain rather than want Dave’s job.

  • Tssluga

    yeah…the network was clearly vindicated by the ratings…however, i think it points to a more serious problem and the amount of americans who have little to no sense of actual humor to be able to watch leno…

  • knightoftomorrow

    Of course, the reason this all happened in the first place was because NBC saw the success of Leno and thought that it might carry over to prime time. This prompted them to give Leno his own show during prime time. They needed someone on the Tonight Show so they gave it to Conan. The problem was that Leno didn’t carry over very well into prime time so they canceled it and tried to get back to what they had, which was a successful Tonight Show featuring Leno. We all know how that turned out, and this just proves that they never should have tried to move Leno to prime time in the first place.

  • Ryan

    I wish I could like this comment 20 times. Of all the promises for NBC to keep, the one they made to Conan was the dumbest of them all. The plunge in his ratings on TBS, where he can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants, only confirms this.

  • Ryan


    They moved Jay to prime time because they had already given Conan the Tonight Show and were having nightmare visions of Leno showing up on another network and eating their lunch, the way Jay hinted at several times during his monologues before the switch. Putting Conan on Tonight was the antecendent, not the consequent.

  • stealthwise

    It’s all short term gains for long term losses, though. Leno won’t stay on the air forever, hell, I’d be surprised to see him on the air until 2015, and the current viewing audience for late night is getting quite a bit older. This will backfire on them in a big way down the line.

  • Gianluca

    Because I’m willing to bet that in 2010, the overall audience is in their 40s or older. Seriously, who watches The Tonight Show anymore when you have the internet and a million cable channels?

  • Anonymous

    People who like watching TV? The ratings are judged by the 18-49 Demo. I am really sorry but who is watching the Internet isn’t a rating. If folks dont’ watch the TV, shows get canceled.

  • Gianluca

    Yeah, Ryan’s right. They had announced Conan for the Tonight Show several years before it happened and gave Jay a prime time show to keep him with the network. While I do feel that they could have Conan on longer and see if he could build up an audience, it’s hard to argue with the rating numbers or feel bad when they paid Conan so much to leave.

  • knightoftomorrow

    Well, then, I stand corrected. Honestly, I never watch the late night shows, no matter who is hosting so I apologize for having my facts wrong.

  • Jolly Mon

    Masterbating bears is “actual humor”? I mean to someone who isn’t eight years old?

  • Gianluca

    And I’m willing to bet that the Tonight Show garners most people near the 49 Demo end and older.

  • Anonymous

    Overall this year Jay’s Demo is higher than Dave, Kimmell, Conan, Stewart, and Nightline (they bloat their ratings as that is a half hour show but Jay does beat them in the half hour to half hour demo)

    Even though its lower than what it was, its still dominant enough to win fairly weekly. Conan is down to a 0.7 and is loosing to Jon Stewart in total viewers, tied in the Men’s Demo and Stewart beat Conan at times in the Demo. Now before the “its cable” argumet comes that network is in 100 out of 115 homes. That is NOT terrible. So he has gone from week ones average of 1.7 in the Demo to now last week was a 0.7 in the Demo.