Last night (at the time of writing this) saw the end of a television era, as David Letterman took the stage for the final time as host of Late Show on CBS. However, his departure didn’t go unnoticed, as the series appears to have set some major ratings records for the program.
With an overall viewership of 13.76 million viewers, the finale was the show’s most watched episode since February 25th, 1994. In addition, the show’s 25-54 demo rating of 4.1 was also the series’ most watched event among the audience division since an Oprah appearance in December 2005. However, it wasn’t just self-records that the series broke last night.
A report from Deadline (concerning the ratings for Letterman's final night as Late Show host) has now confirmed that the Letterman finale managed to outscore both the first and second series finales of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show run - something that would surely make the veteran New York comedian thrilled, given his long standing rivalry with the former NBC host.
Of course, it probably helps that some of Dave’s competition was taking the night off; including Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore (who are on a dark week), Jimmy Kimmel (who opted to air a re-run so as not to compete with Letterman), and Conan O’Brien, who instructed viewers to tune into Letterman’s final show halfway through his own program on TBS.
As far as events go, last night was very much about Letterman and the end of his run not just on CBS, but all of late-night. The episode was packed with emotion and a variety of trips down memory lane. In fact, the episode was devoid of many written bits, instead choosing to put on a bunch of montages featuring clips from Dave’s past. The only real comedy bit came from the show’s final top 10, which feature a group of repeat guests seen on the show throughout the years. Letterman’s finale was an event that’s probably not going to be matched on late-night ever again in terms of audience; not even Stewart is likely to achieve these kind of ratings, when he steps down from The Daily Show in August.
The episode was very much about not only saying goodbye to Dave, but also the old way of doing things in late-night. As we discussed yesterday, the departure of Letterman is the end of a generation. With everything in the medium switching to viral content (produced by hosts who aren’t just limited to the conceit of white men anymore), the game’s changing in a major way. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the genre evolves in the months and years to come.
Late Show returns with new host Stephen Colbert on CBS in Fall 2015.