David Letterman won last week’s ratings race against newly installed Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien in the Late Show‘s largest weekly victory over Tonight since 2000. The “impressive win,” according to The New York Times, came as Tonight suffered the least-viewed week in the show’s history.
“This does not bode well for the fall,” said a CBS exec, according to Deadline Hollywood Daily.
This past Wednesday, Letterman scored a further impressive feat when Paul McCartney returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater and performed a concert on the marquee in front of a crowd of about 4,000. The former Beatle’s appearance helped Letterman’s Late Show top Tonight by its largest margin since Oct. 16, 2008.
O’Brien continues to be the strongest of the shows among younger viewers that many advertisers prefer, although margins in that area have shrunk in recent weeks. Tonight has dropped to third place more regularly in total viewers, not a place Tonight has often landed, as the NYT notes.
Last week, O’Brien attracted 2.8 million viewers while Letterman had 3.7 million. Nightline, however, was the overall winner with 3.8 million. (The NYT points out that Nightline benefits by being measured for a half-hour vs. an hour for the other shows.)
The Tonight numbers are a steep drop from those scored by Jay Leno a year ago in the same week.
Still for viewers in the 18-34 range, O’Brien continues to fare better than Leno did. He was up 26% in that group from Leno last year, though down 7% among viewers between 18 and 49.
Letterman has been closing the gap a bit among younger viewers and last week managed a virtual tie with O’Brien among viewers between 25 and 54. One NBC late-night executive told the NYT, “Dave is definitely on his game; Conan has to respond.”