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Shocker: Jay Leno's ratings continue to match Conan's ratings from the year before


Wuh-oh, NBC.  You got some 'splainin' to do, huh?

Take a look at the graph above, which shows us the ratings for Jay Leno's new and "improved" Tonight Show versus the numbers Conan was putting up while he was in office.  They've also got David Letterman in there (pic via, just as a point of comparison.  And, y'know, to show you that Letterman's quickly closing the gap on this latenight race.  Installing Leno as the host of The Tonight Show after booting Conan was a risky move, and everyone's been waiting to see if the decision would pay off for NBC, long-term.  So, what does the above graph tell us?

Well, for one thing, it shows that-- in its twelfth week-- Jay Leno's ratings are essentially identical to the ones that Coco was putting up at the same time during his stint on The Tonight Show.  Sure, there's some small differences here and there, but just look at that graph.  Graphs almost never lie.  NBC infamously pulled Leno out of primetime and attempted to move Conan back on The Tonight Show to accomodate him, which--as you'll surely remember from January's "Late Night Wars"-- led to Conan leaving the Peacock.  By the way, "Peacock" is what the cool kids call NBC, not a gay bar.

Let's recall NBC's biggest complaint towards Conan O'Brien:  His Tonight Show was losing money for the network.  According to all involved, Conan's Tonight Show was costing the network millions-- well, according to everyone at the network, anyway.  So, how is it possible that Conan's ratings were a sinkhole eating wads of cash while Leno's ratings are perfectly acceptable?  Well, it's not possible.  NBC's flat-out lying when they say that's why they wanted to bump Conan back; clearly, they just wanted to retain Leno and his hilarious "Headlines" bit.  But we've all known that for awhile now, right?  Let's let TVByTheNumbers have their say:

Jay Leno’s Tonight Show 1.1 adults 18-49 rating last week (May 17-21) was the same as the previous three weeks, but for the first time in seven weeks fell below Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show ratings trend, comparing the ratings for each show’s twelfth week. There has been no more than a tenth of an adults 19-49 ratings point difference between the two show’s ratings trends since week 5 of their runs.

Readers should note that 12 weeks into “Conan (2009-10)” was the third week of August, 2009, near the bottom of the broadcast TV year, but 12 weeks into “Leno (2010-)”, was still during the regular broadcast season.

We can also see that Letterman's way up from the same time last year.  After Conan took the option to run screaming from NBC, the biggest question in the latenight game was whether or not Letterman would be able to maintain the lead that he had while Conan was in office, especially since-- historically-- he'd been runner-up to Leno's Tonight Show for a long, long time.  Now, if this graph is any indication, it would appear that Letterman could ultimately take the latenight crown if these patterns continue. 

What does all this mean?  Not much, really.  Conan's long gone, and he's got his own new show starting on TBS in November.  Dave's still Dave.  Leno still sucks all the funny out of a room.  The game hasn't changed, but it appears that our perception of its players may have been altered following January's "Late Night Wars": how else to explain the sudden decline in ratings on Leno's end since he took over?  And how is NBC going to spin the fact that Leno's not beaten Conan's ratings in going-on-two months?  That oughtta make for one helluva press release.  Stay tuned for more on this situation as it develops, my precious snowflakes.

Stay tuned for more funny videos, news, reviews, interviews, recaps, funny pictures, and more from the Comedy Examiner's Office in the near future, folks.  We've got all manner of nonsense to keep you busy while you're supposed to be getting productive at work, so hit the "Subscribe" button up top if you want to get all of the future time-wasting content you can handle from the Comedy Examiner delivered straight to your inbox, free of charge, the moment it's published.  And check out some of these other recent Comedy Examiner articles while you're here:

FUNNY VIDEO: WHY IS "TWILIGHT" SO POPULAR, ANYWAY?  THIS VIDEO EXPLAINS IT ALL (WITH VIDEO)-- in which we learn, once and for all, why anyone would bother with the Twilight series.  And, no, "too fat to have a real boyfriend" is not the answer.

FUNNY PICTURE: MCDONALD'S INTRODUCES THE WORST MCFLURRY FLAVOR EVER (WITH STARTLING EVIDENCE)-- as with all "Funny Picture" articles, the only "Startling Evidence" here is that the Comedy Examiner was fresh outta material and decided to take it out on a picture of Shrek.

FUNNY VIDEO: THE MOST PATHETIC "AMERICAN IDOL" REACTION VIDEO YOU'LL SEE ALL WEEK (WITH VIDEO)-- in which someone posts footage of their own mother overreacting to an "American Idol" finale, and the world points and laughs.  Help do your part, America: click the damn link.

COMMENTARY: WRITERS WHO INCLUDE SEASON FINALE SPOILERS IN THEIR HEADLINES NEED TO BE SAVAGELY BEATEN-- in which the Comedy Examiner rants and raves about the assclowns that spoiled the season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice for him.  Also worth debating: why I'm speaking in the third person.

(photos:, conan/,, next--screencap,


  • Scott Wampler, Comedy Examiner 5 years ago

    Just wanted to point out that this headline's incorrect and I'm aware of it. There was a bit of a mishap when I entered that into the pub tool, and-- despite my efforts to fix it-- it appears that it's stuck that way for the moment. Editing headlines and articles instantly is, unfortunately, not a consistently available function of the Examiner's Pub Tool. So, apologies for the confusion; I'm working to get it fixed as we speak.

    Just subtract " seven weeks" from the headline and you'll be OK.

    My bad,

  • Sam 5 years ago

    That graph only shows the ratings for 18-49. It misses out an important demographic that Leno is more likely to attract than O'Brien.

  • Rico 5 years ago

    What this graph explicitly does not show is all the in-show shilling that Leno engages in. There's more money to be made during "comedy" segments sponsored by Netflix, or Tylenol, or than from commercials.

    In other words, Conan could have exactly the same ratings as Leno, with exactly the same ad rates for the commercial breaks, but if Conan won't play the corporate game, he'll never make as much money for the network as Leno.

  • Carlos 5 years ago

    Conan was never the corporate sell out that Jay Leno is, he will endorse whatever the network throws at him. He will even hand the Tonight Show over publicly and than 7 months later take it back without even blinking. Conan will have a better show on TBS since it won't be edited or watered down and Jay Leno despite having lower ratings is exactly the kind of guy NBC wants doing that show anyway.

  • D 5 years ago

    I can't wait for Conan's show to start.

  • Gobar 5 years ago

    @Rico: Actually, Conan did engage in some shilling; the only thing was that Conan was clever enough to turn those opportunities into comedic bits. For example, his remote as a Best Buy blue shirt trying to hawk the Kodak digital picture frame. He never did shameless whoring, though, such as "And now here's Conan's Tabloid Moment, brought to you by Netflix!" Since Conan O'Brien is a comedian and Jay Leno is not, this works okay for the both of them. I confess that I don't and won't watch Leno, ever, for anything, thus I'm not aware of the extent to which Leno shills, and his shilling may be more profitable than Conan's.

    It doesn't change the fact that NBC lies like a bitch, though.

  • doubledowndave 5 years ago

    Check out this video that Jay Leno doesn't want you to see!! Go to Youtube and search: I Got Lenoed.

  • beedogs 5 years ago

    @sam: what demographic is that? the Alzheimer's set?

  • Facty 5 years ago

    Slightly skewed since it's 18-49 which is Conan's strong demo and Leno's weak demo. Need totals esp. if you are talking about losing money or not.

  • Bill McDonald 5 years ago

    The 18-49 demographic was supposed to be owned by Conan as he was the future.
    You're telling me Leno is beating Conan at his main game - younger viewers?
    You're right - that is a little shocking.
    Now go through your conclusions with the total viewers and see how Leno is doing. My understanding is that Letterman was beating Conan but now he's behind Leno...again.
    Who's #1 in late night?

  • Austin 5 years ago

    Sam - That's because people 50 and older don't matter.

  • Ron 5 years ago

    @Austin, Conan is 47, Leno is 60, Letterman is 63, and how does an audience 50 and over not matter? the hosts themselves are near 50 or over 50, explain. If the networks wanted younger viewers that bad they'd have a 20 to 35 year old doing all these shows. Audiences 50 and over do matter...

  • Peter 5 years ago

    @Ron it's the age demographic table he was talking about, not that viewers 50 and over don't matter, they really do. Most of Jay Leno's audience is 50 and over.

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