Ratings for Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien improve in light of late-night controversy

The ongoing tug-of-war between Conan O’Brien and NBC has been a boon for ratings. The firestorm that erupted over the weekend and culminated yesterday with O’Brien’s statement that “I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction” has not only reinvigorated the monologues for all the late-night shows but given the No. 4 ranked Peacock a much-needed boost in the ratings. From Jan. 11 to Jan. 12 alone, The Jay Leno Show went from 4.799 million viewers to 6.099 million, as fans tuned in to see what the chinned one had to say about his controversial time shift. “I have to tell you, the folks here at NBC don’t handle these things well,” he said this week. “They don’t have a lot of tact. Like, after they canceled the show, they told me if I put on 10 pounds I can get on The Biggest Loser.” Leno’s been averaging 5.4 million during the fourth quarter.

At the same time, The Tonight Show has seen its overnight ratings tick up well over its fourth quarter average of 1.8 rating/5 share: On Monday, O’Brien earned a 2.3/6 in 56 local markets (the most immediate ratings available until nationals are released Jan. 22) and on Tuesday, his overnight rating jumped to a 2.8/7. His fourth quarter average in homes is 1.8/5. His yuks about his fate only seem to get better and better. “When I was a little boy, I remember watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and thinking, ‘someday, I’m going to host that show for seven months,” he said on Tuesday’s show. On both nights, however, Letterman still won the timeslot (3.4/9 and 3.8/9, respectively) as he, too weighed in on the brouhaha with jokes at Leno’s expense (Letterman’s fourth quarter average is 3.0/8 in homes): “A couple of minutes ago, Conan O’Brien, who was the host of The Tonight Show over there at NBC, announced that he would not follow Jay Leno at 12:05. Yeah, so you know what this means — that’s right, I knocked off another competitor.”

Jimmy Fallon also saw his overnight ratings improve from Monday to Tuesday (1.1/4 to 1.3/5), as well, with jokes like this: “Is anyone here flying this weekend? There are so many delays at my airport, my flight was bumped from 12:35 a.m. to 1:05 a.m.”

For more on the late-night controversy from EW.com:

‘Conan:’ ‘NBC is a a big pimp,’ plus: All the other late-night hosts join Team Conan

‘The I’m With Coco’ movement

Conan’s ‘enormous personal disappointment’ with NBC decision

NBC shakes up late-night

Comments (106 total) Add your comment
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  • DavidJ

    I’m definitely in Conan’s corner, but damn… even with all the controversy he’s STILL trailing Letterman in the ratings. Not exactly a good sign.

    • Rosalie

      I must say that I love, love, love Jay Leno. I watch his show every single time I have a chance. I don’t think it’s his fault how this whole mess is going down. I can not believe that Dave Letterman is still bitter over not getting “the Tonight Show”. Most people that I know watch Jay and like him. I don’t think Conan is all that funny to be quite honest. I don’t know that he has that many fans to begin with. He reminds me of a 7th grader who tries to hard to fit in. The only reason why he used to beat Furgeson was because he had the lead in from Leno. Anyhow, I hope the best for Leno because it seems that everyone is trashing him. However, he still has the best guests on. Go figure.

      • SirLizard

        Jay Leno about as interesting and entertaining as dryer lint.

      • Penny

        You don’t know if he has that many fans to begin with??? Where are you living woman? A cave? Conan has a huge fan base. HUGE!

        I think it’s hilarious that people don’t think Conan’s funny, and rave about how superduperfunny Leno is. I’m sorry but he’s not funny. He sucks. Hard. And the older he gets the more he loses touch with the all too important 18-45 age group. The frivolous people. Who BUY stuff. Expensive stuff we can’t always afford but get lured into buying anyway (cause, hey, I guess we’re not wise enough yet. That comes with age and experience, no?). That’s right, the KEY demographic that advertisers are in love with.

        All the people you know, who like Jay Leno, are probably card carrying AARP members, like you are. Yeah, that’s right, I just called you old. And where the crap were you and all your old friends when Jay needed you to watch his crappy show, so it wouldn’t get canceled? If it weren’t for you losers none of this would be happening. Jay would have his “consultation prize” and none of this crap would have happened.

      • Emily

        It kind of IS Jay’s fault actually. The Tonight Show torch was supposed to be passed onto Conan and yet Leno is about to steal his spot away from him again. It’s bad enough that Jay Leno refuses to retire. Now Conan will probably leave. I’m sorry but I think this is completely Jay’s fault. Conan has had to play second fiddle to Jay even though this was his biggest dream.

      • CindyC

        Actually, in a weird way, it is partly Jay’s fault. Years ago, when he was renegotiating his contract, he mused aloud about wanting to retire in a few years. Mind you, he has a lawyer but not an agent, and an agent would have been horrified. Muse about moving to another station, but not about quitting! Anyway, the suits at NBC stupidly took this seriously and moved to sew up Conan O’Brien to take over when Jay “retired.” Trouble is, Jay got better and better and showed no signs of wanting to retire. The NBC suits had put their heads in the noose, however, and had to honor Conan’s contract.

        But now, the fault is with Conan. Yes, he’s funny, but still doesn’t have broad appeal. He lost half of Leno’s audience in a frighteningly short time. Nor can he blame it in Leno’s weak lead-inn to the news; Letterman flourished at CBS for years despite weak prime-time programming. As Seinfeld has pointed out, nobody was stopping anyone from watching Conan.

        Conclusion? They didn’t want to. NBC was forced to pull the plug and now had a monster headache about how to solve the problem.

        Fact is, Jay never committed to retire. He can keep going as long as Johnny Carson if he wants, and NBC knows it. So their dilemma is keep him or watch him stomp them from another perch.

      • merle Balke

        I like and watch Letterman, but I thought he was getting pretty nasty in his comments about Leno. You didn’t get the Tonight Show Dave, get over it and quit whining.,

      • alicia

        i don’t think letterman truly is bitter. i think he’s noting how nbc screws people. and it’s self-depricating humor. i think it’s funny. i also think conan is funny. i don’t think jay leno is funny. i think he sounds bitter. he shouldn’t have talked about retiring. he did this to himself.

      • @Penny

        If Conan has such a HUGE fan base where are they? 1.8 mil compared to Leno’s 5.6 mil when he had TTS does not compare. For the first time in 17 yrs. Lettermen is soundly beating TTS, again what does that tell you? Conan is only huge in yours and his mind not the rest of the viewing audience.

      • Steve

        Grandma Rosalie, is that you?

      • LAJackie

        “Like, after they canceled the show, they told me if I put on 10 pounds I can get on The Biggest Loser” Yes – this is indeed hilarious. While this “When I was a little boy, I remember watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and thinking, ’someday, I’m going to host that show for seven months,”, is not funny at all. And just in case it’s not clear I’m being sarcastic.

    • salvador Dali

      the reason letterman is always up in ratings is the same reason leno was always above letterman. people like what’s comfortable…what they’re used to. it’s probably all old people who are the majority of the audience for letterman anyway. the younger auds tune into conan. isn’t that what matters, anyway? in the long run?

    • mattymo

      This issue isn’t who you think is more funny. It’s how NBC is handling the situation (poorly). And Jay gets better guests because NBC makes sure he gets first crack at A listers, which also hurts Conan. And Conan’s ratings are in part suffering because the network lead in (Jay Leno) is not pulling the ratings that is used to. Even local NBC affiliates are complaining that there late news is losing ratings because Jay at 10 doesn’t pull the same kind of audience that the NBC dramas did previously in that time slot. Conan is getting a raw deal, regardless of who you prefer as a host.

    • linkj

      Anyone who likes Leno’s lame, “you can see it coming from a mile away” comedy is a half wit at best.

  • Al

    Maybe instead of signing up for Facebook pages, Conan’s fans should start watching his show.

    • james

      WE are buddy. Its the AARP folk who are giving Lettergoof the added boost.

      • E

        Neilson ratings are a total joke anyway.

      • InternJack


        Leno on the TonightShow gets avg of 5 million viewers a night.

        Conan on the Tonight Show, even with this bump, is only getting an avg of 3 million?

        Where are those 2 million viewers who aren’t watching Conan?

        They aren’t all at Letterman as he was already avg 3 million viewers a night.

        Maybe they’re watching Ferguson?

      • @Internjack

        That would be 1.8 mil for Conan. Where are the rest of the viewers? Some stayed and watched Lettermen (his numbers are up too) the rest never tuned in. Why would they. 1) Not Conan fans 2) can get the news 24/7 off the internet or cable and 3) have already watched Leno this all equals – the avg Tonight Show viewer is not sticking around to watch the destruction of an instution they value and have been watching for years.

    • Penny

      Yeah, we’re just barely signing up for facebook pages, and only so we can join the Team Conan group. Because none of us had facebook pages to begin with.

      Hello! Our generation–the generation that likes Conan–invented facebook. You probably just heard about facebook, didn’t you? Just now. As you were trying to figure out how to use the ‘gosh darn contraption’ (read: “magical screen with a typewriter attached” OR what most people call a computer) sitting right in front of you.

      • InternJack

        Could you crank up that magical contraption and tell me which number is greater.

        20,ooo facebook fans for Conan

        Or 5,ooo,ooo viewers for Jay Leno?

        How about

        3 million viewers for Conan or

        5million viewers for Leno on The Tonight Show?

      • Tomm

        Well, can Facebook sustain the expenses of running a TV show? All you “kids” demand free music, movies and more. Look what happens, shows get canceled, musicians lose contracts, bad movies, etc, since you all are cheap and have the ‘entitlement’ attitude.

        The internet may be ‘hip’, but it isn’t supporting the entertainment industry enough to maintain quality.

      • @Penny

        You wouldn’t have fb if it weren’t for those people trying to figure out how to comunicate from one gosh darn contraption to another. These people would be called your grandparents you little ungratefull shit.

    • Kelly

      The problem is – Nielsen only represents a fraction of television viewers. It’s unfair and slanted. Honestly, it’s BS.

      • Normalman

        People always whine about the accuracy of the rating when their favorite show does badly. Get over it, the ratings are relatively accurate – people just like Jay more, inspite of what the hip people on this board think.

      • sy

        Yeah, maybe Conan’s ratings are even lower than Nielsen reports!

    • sy


      Where were the Conan viewers for the past 6.5 months? I don’t buy that takes longer than 7 months for his viewers to “find” him from his previous late night show. TV is about ratings. Conan’s viewship (until this week) has been 1/2 of Leno’s when he had the Tonight Show. Once the hupla is over, all the extra viewers Conan has this week will remember that he is not that funny.

  • Quirky

    Craig Ferguson is the only one I watch anymore and the ironic thing is I only starting watching him when Conan left the 12:30 slot. Before that I always watched Conan but when his show ended in Feb I switched over to Craig to see what “this crazy Scotish guy was like”. I haven’t left yet.

    It will be interesting how many old Leno fans went over to Letterman when Jay left and how many of them would actually come back if Jay does get the 11:30 slot again. Is Leno still capable of beating Letterman in the ratings?

    • Glen Watson

      No, NBC is damaged beyond repair now. No matter who they choose, Leno or Conan, the other is going to jump to Fox which will be competing for ratings to.

    • InternJack

      Yep, I think that he can because he’s got appx. the same number of viewers now as he did on the Tonight Show. If they move him now? Yes.

      They followed him from the 11:30 spot to the 10pm slot. They’ll follow him back to the Tonight Show. I also think that Conan fans will follow Conan to the 12;30 spot.

      It would be dumb for either of them to jump ship for Fox.

    • Coyote

      I hope not.

  • Deb

    I’m pretty sure Conan won his time slot last night.

    • Cindy

      I’m just as sure not. There were more problems than we know about. A recent article divulged that Conan refused to listen to constructive criticism from his bosses, saying “I do what I do.”

      What he DID is bring back Andy Richter, a totally un-funny dead weight. And his bits are still the sophomoric humor hasn’t adjusted for the new demographic.

      Fact is, older folks love Jay, Dave, Craig, and Saturday Night Live. Conan’s humor, while occasionally side-splitting, is often stilted and poorly delivered. He looks tense, constipated and uncomfortable a good chunk of the time. It’s not relaxing watching him in this time slot. He’s bombing. Too bad he can’t swallow his pride and go back to 12:35. He killed with that sleep-deprived audience.


  • chrisfinley

    Leno’s ratings were up for Tuesday, but NOT because of the controversy. Tuesday is always Leno’s highest rated night because of the higher lead-in he gets from new episodes of “The Biggest Loser” on Tuesdays. His ratings last night were actually DOWN when compared to his 6.4 rating the previous Tuesday night. You need to compare apples to apples in order to make a judgement that Leno’s ratings are going up.

    • sy

      You are splitting hairs. Leno’s ratings kick Conan’s backside. NBC could not ignore the 2-3 million viewer void when Conan took over the Tonight Show. TV is a business. Conan was not delivering. All he is getting for his poor performance is $45 million! Too bad for Conan.

  • MajoH

    Leno 4.799 to 6.099 viewers, Conan 2.3/6 to 2.8/7 ratings. Why does the author not stick to one set of measures instead of apples and oranges, or is it intended for Nielsen employees’ eyes only? Is Conan more or less popular than Leno?

  • Laura

    Conan is not doing better in the ratings because most of his fans – i.e. youngish people – do not have Nielson boxes, and so they cannot affect the Nielson ratings. Certainly, I don’t have one, and I watch CoCo all the time. And if the internet is any evidence, tons of other people watch him too. The people who DO have Nielson boxes are the same morons who have made the craptacular “Two and a Half Men” a big ratings hit. So, the fact that the viewing decisions of these people are affecting Conan so badly just makes me die inside.

    • rerun

      There’s no need to pick on “2 1/2 Men”…oh wait, we can?…oh yeah rip on that crapbag. I wonder what the crossover from Leno to 2 1/2 is. Has to be at least 80% crossover.

      • Beiber

        Team Lone!

    • Eric

      You should really educate yourself about how Nieslen TV ratings are measured because you entire post is based on an incredibly incorrect premise. Honestly people, Google is your friend.

      • Laura

        Honestly, Eric, you need to read more about this issue because many, many, many news outlets and entertainment industry people have complained about the total inaccuracy of the Nielson Ratings System, which is commonly referred to as being “archaic”. And while I did not claim that NO young people partake in the Nielson system, it is true that a lot of young people don’t partake in the Nielson system because a) they aren’t given the opportunity to (and I certainly have never known any person under the age of 40 who had a Nielson box, or b) even though their family was chosen by Nielson, many young people don’t partake in it because it’s too much work filling out the Nielson forms every week. There is also the fact that many young people watch TV online through Hulu, iTunes, official websites, etc. Lots of studies have been done revealing this – Google is your friend.

    • Coyote

      If you don’t have one, then I guess no “youngish” person does. Nice logic.

  • MajoH

    Conan can’t turn off ‘goofy’. Time and again he reminds viewers of how goofy he is lest we get distracted. Letterman, Leno and Carson do ‘goofy’ stuff but they have the ability to switch their persona to fit the moment, be that humorous, sincere or respectable,

    • Denise

      He is often sincere and serious. Also, he is intelligent, but he doesn’t feel the need to show off.

    • Kelly

      How old are you Majo? 90? 100? If you really find Leno that funny, you have to be ancient. Leno is stale, unfunny and as interesting as a cat turd.

      • Cindy

        Wow, how immature. Not only are you clearly age discriminatory, as in everybody over 30 seems to be uselessly out of touch to you, but you fail to realize that a good amount of Jay’s audience is the same demographic as Conan’s.

        Jay IS funny. But, like tasting a good wine, you have to be more sophisticated to appreciate his many different subtle levels of comedic genius.

        And, clearly you are uninformed as well. As the Mythbusters recently proved, animal turds are hilariously fascinating.

      • Chris

        So you have to be a sophisticated, pompus ass to appreciate Jay’s “2 chickens crossing the road” style of comedy? i see….

  • willblogforlols

    Great, so they’ll both just have to be on the verge of leaving NBC from now on to get decent ratings? ~ freelols.com

  • DeRemer

    Let’s not forget when Leno took over the Tonight Show his ratings were terrible. TERRIBLE! Until the whole Hugh Grant thing happened then hit rating began to boost. Conan is exectly correct, don’t mess with this franchise to accomodate Leno. He’s proven with his failed 10PM show that he’s just simply Not That Good! Either put Leno on at 12:35AM or step aside Leno. Conan deserves to let HIS Tonight Show mature.

    • InternJack

      So all Conan needs is for some hot Hollywood star to screw up and then go on The conan Tonight show and apologize

      Can he just hire a stunt double for that.

      Maybe the Insult dog could have a thing with a poodle? And then he could have this big mia culpa moment with Conan and Andy?

      Problem Solved.

      No wait. There’s no Masturbating Bear in this.


      • Kelly

        InternJack is a Leno intern, guys. Don’t let him tell you otherwise. They’re hiring and encouraging these morons to post this crap.

    • Normalman

      Nobody deserves anything. This is business and if Leno will get more viewers, NBC would be stupid not to go with him. Of course, NBC was stupid in starting all this in the first place so who knows what they do.

  • Mike

    This article is misleading. You have to look at Leno’s ratings in comparison to his usual Tuesday ratings. His ratings last night were actually down from his last ratings last Tuesday. He always gets better ratings on Tuesdays because the competition is weak at best.

  • Larry

    I will not miss Conan. Bye! Jay I will miss the monolog and thats all. I watched jay every night. I have not seen him since he moved to ?

  • ElrondL

    We DVR Conan every night — how is that reflected in the Nielsons? Leno is a pathetic, unfunny lapdog for NBC — I never watched him on the Tonight Show and I can’t stand the sight of him after this mess. The entire family watches Conan here and we’ll follow him wherever he goes.

    • Cindy

      Well, since you admit that you “never watched him on the Tonight Show,” then you are totally unqualified to pass judgment on whether he is the correct person to be doing the Tonight Show now.

    • merle Balke

      Since you never watched Jay on the Tonight Show not sure how you are qualified to comment on the quality of his humor. Did you see him in Vegas and then ask for a refund after the show or did you qualify for one of his free concerts for the unemployed in Michigan?

  • ElrondL

    BTW thank you, DeRemer — everyone conveniently forgets that Leno’s ratings also tanked when he started at the Tonight Show.

  • Jed

    This is sad in that it took a late-night tug of war between two hosts for both of their shows to get a slight bump in the ratings. What does that tell you about the way NBC is handling all of this? Oh, even more bad news..Zucker for some apparent reason got his contract renewed by NBC Universal for 3 more years, according to Y! News. Fallon needs to just stay out of this and keep his mouth shut and be grateful he still has a show on.

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