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Jimmy Fallon scores record ratings ahead of 'Tonight Show' debut

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Ahead of his “Tonight Show,” debut, Jimmy Fallon closed down “Late Night” with record ratings.

According to a Feb. 8 story on EW.com, Fallon’s final show on Friday night “had a 4.8 rating in the metered-market households, the best performance ever of the show using this data-set.” That number topped the previous “Late Night” ratings record, which went all the way back to the night before, following Jay Leno’s last show as host of the “Tonight Show.”

The numbers are a positive sign for NBC, which was looking for a peaceful transfer of power between the two talk show institutions after the acrimony and embarrassment surrounding Conan O’Brien’s ill-fated venture as “Tonight Show” host in 2009. Leno’s “Tonight Show” farewell also brought in big ratings, garnering 14.6 million viewers, the show’s largest audience since the night of the “Seinfeld” finale in 1998.

In his opening monologue, Fallon's voice sounded hoarse with emotion as he said goodbye to the show he hosted for 969 episodes. Fallon noted that they had done “over 10,000 monologue jokes over the last five years” and over 2,000 sketches. Those are numbers are all the more impressive when you consider Fallon’s nervous and uneven start in the shadow of NBC’s so-called “War for Late Night” between Leno and O’Brien. But Fallon slowly found his voice and audience, incorporating more sketches, music, and general warm-heartedness than his dryly ironic predecessor. The final "Late Night" sketch was a duet of The Band’s classic “The Weight” between Fallon and The Muppets, a perfect encapsulation of his show’s style and sensibility.

Fallon makes his “Tonight Show” debut one week from tonight on Feb. 17, with guests Will Smith and U2. Meanwhile, former “Saturday Night Live” head writer and Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers takes over “Late Night” one week later on Feb. 24, with Amy Poehler booked as his first guest.

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