Leno bumps ahead during February
NBC's 'Tonight Show' finishes first in 18-49s and total viewers
March 8, 2013
On the same week that rumors began brewing that Jay Leno may once again be on the way out at “The Tonight Show,” Leno won his first February sweeps in two years.
NBC’s late-night host finished first in both total viewers and adults 18-49, categories where ABC’s “Nightline” had pulled ahead last year.
With “Nightline” now relegated to 12:35 a.m. and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” still finding its audience in its new 11:35 p.m. timeslot, Leno made an argument for continuing in the late-night slot that he regained in 2010, following the brief and disastrous “Tonight” tenure of Conan O’Brien.
Leno’s victory among 18-49s was close. According to Nielsen, he averaged 1.021 million in the demo during the four-week period used to set ad rates for local stations, which ran from Jan. 31 to Feb. 27.
CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” was second with 941,000, and “Kimmel” was third with 913,000, his best sweeps number in the demo since 2007.
The three shows finished within 108,000 viewers of each other, and all pulled off at least one nightly first-place finish in the demo during the month, a far cry from a few years back, when Leno would dominate every single night.
The competition in the demo is being watched closely, because ABC relocated Kimmel to the hour in anticipation of Leno and Letterman’s eventual exit. The network thinks Kimmel, who is two decades younger than his competitors, can woo away younger viewers, and indeed he has the lowest median age of the three shows.
Still, Kimmel is drawing a smaller audience right now than “Nightline” did in the demo, and it could take months or years for him to establish himself against the two proven comics.
That timeline would be shortened if Leno decides to leave. His contract is up next year, and he took a hefty paycut last year when NBC was looking to save some money.
Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter said that “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon is being groomed to step in to Leno’s spot next year. The network would prefer to start the transition sooner rather than later, because Fallon, too, is up for a contract extension.
Promising him the plum “Tonight” spot would entice him to stay, especially since CBS is expected to go after the former “Saturday Night Live” performer as well. Letterman’s contract is also coming up for renewal, and there’s a sense that he may be ready to retire.
Among total viewers Leno had a more sizeable lead during February. “Tonight” averaged 3.5 million total viewers, 200,000 ahead of “Late Show.”
Kimmel drew 2.56 million, his biggest sweeps audience ever.
In late-late night, NBC’s “Late Night” was first with a 0.5 rating. CBS’s “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” tied ABC’s “Nightline” for second with 0.4.
In total viewers, “Late Night” was first with 1.7 million, followed by “Nightline” and “Late Late Show” with 1.6 million apiece.
In the 1:35 a.m. slot, NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” averaged a 0.3 in the demo and 900,000 viewers.
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