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 tvbythenumbers.com), 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.
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(photos: top--tvbythenumbers.com, conan/jay--boston.com, conan--collider.com, next--screencap, bottom--indianinthemachine.files.wordpress.com)