There’s big news on the late night TV battlefront today: The late-night ratings for Q2 – the first full quarter since Leno came back as host after Conan O’Brien was dumped – are in, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno posted its lowest-rated Q2 since the Late Show with David Letterman launched on CBS in 1993. Additionally, Late Show delivered its most competitive finish against The Tonight Show in viewers and key demographics since 1995. Still, Leno topped Letterman comfortably in the ratings during their first quarter in 9 months as late-night rivals, by 23% in both total viewers and adults 18-49. The Tonight Show averaged 4.0 million viewers and a 1.1/4 in adults 18-49, down 20% in viewers and 31% in adults 18-49 from last year’s second quarter, which was inflated by the big ratings for Leno’s sign-off and Conan O’Brien’s debut.
It was the lowest-rated second quarter for The Tonight Show in total viewers, adults 18-49, and adults 25-54 since 1993. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is now tracking at demo levels comparable to where the show was with O’Brien as host. Meanwhile, Late Show too had its smallest audience since 1993. It drew 3.3 million viewers and a 0.9/4 in 18-49, down 7% in viewers and even in 18-49. It was Late Show’s most competitive 2Q position against The Tonight Show in viewers (-746,000) and adults 18-49 (-0.2) since 1995.
So the old guard late-night hosts are losing ground, with Nightline (3.7 million, up 2%), once in danger of cancellation by ABC when the network was pursuing Letterman, comfortably ahead of the CBS host and closing in on Leno.