We don’t mean to interrupt the quiet truce in the Late Night War, but: Anyone who thinks "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" has been an instant, dramatic ratings improvement over "The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien" really ought to check out last week’s numbers.
In the adults 18-49 category NBC has repeatedly said it cares most about, Leno averaged only a 1.0 rating/5 share — despite facing a week of repeats from "Late Show with David Letterman," which earned a 0.8/3. It was Leno’s lowest demo score since returning to 11:35 p.m. in March.
The 1.0 rating for Leno compares to the 1.1 rating O’Brien averaged during his in-season run as host of "Tonight." For the math-challenged, that means that last week, Jay did worse than Conan had been doing — even though the chief rival was in repeats. Also, as we’ve said before, Leno now has the benefit of relatively strong lead-ins such as "Parenthood" and "The Marriage Ref."
We’re not trying to say that it’s all over, and that Leno is now going to end up lower-rated than Conan, and stupid NBC, look what you did.
But: There’ve been several reports lately suggesting that the old, pre-Coco order had been restored to late-night — and that Jay was once again the dominant king of the daypart. It was if the last nine months had never happened.
Fact is, it’s still too soon to call the race. As one ratings oberver notes, numbers can go down for all shows in April thanks to the impact of primetime repeats, more daylight hours, better weather, etc.
And for all we know, Coco could’ve been doing a 0.8 by now had things stayed unchanged. (One ratings observer notes that if you look at exact, unrounded numbers, Leno is off just 5 percent from last week).
That said, there’s growing evidence that suggests the better Leno’s primetime lead-in, the better his demo numbers are. For those who believe Conan never got a fair shot because of the crappy lead-ins supplied to him by "The Jay Leno Show," this data is enouraging.
What’s more, Leno’s so-so numbers in the face of Dave repeats suggests that maybe Leno did, indeed, pay a price for being out of latenight for so long (and for bombing in primetime).
NBC insiders always insisted it would take a while for Leno to recover, and while that might have sounded like advance spin — it turns out that might be true after all.