Jay Leno‘s final bow as host of “The Tonight Show” delivered the show’s highest overnight rating in nearly five years.
The NBC late-night staple averaged a 9.2 rating/22 share in households in the very preliminary 56 metered-markets that Nielsen measures on Thursday, though Philadelphia was excluded last night.
Those numbers mark Leno’s best since March 19, 2009 — the night that President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to appear on a late-night talk show (11.3/26).
See video: Jay Leno Jabs NBC in Final ‘Tonight Show’ Monologue: ‘I Don’t Like Goodbyes – NBC Does’
Following Jay’s goodbye, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” earned its highest early rating ever, a 4.6/15 in metered-market households. That tops the prior record of a 4.2/12 with a special 11:56 p.m. ET telecast on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012.
The 4.6 is also the highest for the “Late Night” franchise since “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” earned a 4.6/20 on Thursday, May 14, 1998 — the night of the “Seinfeld” finale.
Guests on “Tonight” Thursday included Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks, with appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Carol Burnett, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Kim Kardashian and Chris Paul. Appearing in taped messages were Jimmy Fallon, Bob Costas, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Sheen and President Barack Obama.
Heading into Leno’s final week, “The Tonight Show” was averaging a 2.8/7 in the very early metric. “Late Night” was averaging a 1.5 rating in the metered-market households. Both shows more than tripled their prior averages on Thursday.
Fast-official national ratings for “Tonight” and “Late Night” are expected later today.