Conan O'Brien's ratings are soaring as he nears the end of his gig with NBC's "Tonight" show. His ridicule of his network executives apparently resonating in a country filled with the unemployed.
His ratings Friday were 50 percent higher than they have been this season, and he beat David Letterman of CBS' "Late Show", according to Nielsen estimates. In NBC's heavily relied on 18-to-49-year-old demographic, O'Brien even beat Jay Leno's prime-time show.
Negotiations continued Saturday on a deal that would let O'Brien leave NBC and restore Leno to the 11:35 p.m. time slot he previously filled for 17 years.
O'Brien's team sees the ratings as vindication. His manager, Gavin Polone, on Saturday compared it to when Leno, trailing Letterman in the ratings in the mid-1990s, drew attention for the memorable appearance of Hugh Grant after his arrest. Leno passed Letterman in popularity and never looked back.
"People who never watched Conan before are saying, `I'll try it,"' Polone said. "Now they're saying, `this is good, I'll stick with it."'
Leno averaged 5.2 million viewers per night on his last season at the "Tonight" show, Nielsen said. O'Brien is averaging 2.5 million this season.