The pendulum of favor in late night may have swung back in the direction of Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who just last year fell out of grace with some viewers – for the first time in his career.

When Conan O’Brien was unceremoniously dumped by NBC as host of Tonight after only six months on the job, many were quick to criticize Leno for being the apparent catalyst for O’Brien’s departure and his own return to the venerable program he had already hosted for seventeen years.

On November 8th, Conan O’Brien triumphantly returned to late night – albeit on basic cable – with the TBS incarnation of his act simply dubbed Conanairing weeknights at 11:00pm EST. The premiere of Conan drew a massive audience (4.2 million viewers) and towered over its direct competition The Daily Show (1.3 million) and The Colbert Report (1 million) on Comedy Central – as well as its broadcast counterparts The Late Show with David Letterman (3.4 million), and of course Jay Leno’s Tonight Show (3.5 million).

But in a new development that suggests viewers may finally be moving beyond the ugly late night fiasco of 2010, Jay Leno has once again regained his old ratings mojo while O’Brien’s program continues to steadily lose both traction and viewers. As reported Wednesday by the New York Post, for the first time since reclaiming The Tonight Show last winter, Jay Leno is now attracting as many young viewers as O’Brien did as the host of the legendary late night talk show.


For the fourth quarter of 2010, The Tonight Show averaged a 1.0 rating in the coveted adults 18-49 demo — a number comparable with those of O’Brien’s Tonight Show. Leno also averaged 4 million viewers a night. O’Brien drew 2.5 million during the same period in 2009. On TBS, Conan attracts just over one million viewers nightly.

Perhaps the real winner in all of this isn’t Leno or O’Brien, after all. And it certainly isn’t David Letterman or his Late Show. Instead, it seems some viewers were permanently turned off to late night comedians following the debacle at NBC. Likely as a result, both Leno and Letterman are now ranked second and third, respectively, in total viewers behind ABC’s Nightline, which the New York Post has since aptly dubbed “the new late-night king,” averaging 3.9 million viewers a night to finish first in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Source: New York Post