Looks like Jay Leno is going out on top. In his final May as host of The Tonight Show, Leno is No. 1 on the late-night heap for the first full week of the sweep and drawing some of his best ratings in months. That’s a success story that could prove awkward for NBC at next week’s upfront presentation as it sets the stage for Jimmy Fallon to take over The Tonight Show next year. It’s a situation made all the more uncomfortable because NBC has been boasting about Leno’s results, and the struggling network’s only other heavyweights right now besides Leno are The Voice and Sunday Night Football. Then there’s the fact that Fallon is in a far tighter race in his current 12:35 AM time slot than Leno is at 11:35 PM. With 3.4 million viewers on average for the week of April 29-May 3, The Tonight Show easily bested CBS’ The Late Show With David Letterman (2.8 million viewers) and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2.5 million viewers). ABC ran a Kimmel encore show on May 3 as it usually does on Fridays. Over the frame, Leno matched his ratings result of the comparable week last year with a 0.8/3 among adults 18-49. That translated into 1.039 million viewers in the demo last week compared with Letterman’s 0.6/3 (766,000 viewers) and Kimmel’s 0.6/3 (820,000).
Against CBS’ The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson’s 1.4 million viewers on average for the week, Fallon pulled in 1.6 million. Running from 12:35-1:05 AM, ABC’s Nightline drew 1.6 million viewers on average over the frame. Among adults 18-49, Late Night garnered 596,000 viewers compared to Ferguson’s 488,000. Facing off, Fallon had 645,000 viewers in 18-49 versus Nightline’s 512,000 and a tighter margin (805,000 to 690,000) among adults 25-54.
Overall, The Tonight Show is the No. 1 show in late-night this season. This past week’s result is the best Leno has done since the April 8-12 frame, when he also got a 0.8 in the demo but was up slightly in demo viewers to 1.047 million. That was the week after it was announced Fallon was taking over The Tonight Show next spring. Year-over-year, Leno was down from the comparable frame April 30-May 4, 2012. But his slide was less that Letterman’s, who was at 3.1 million last year. Leno has topped Letterman for 28 consecutive weeks and has beaten Kimmel every week since the ABC host’s new time slot debut January 8. In adults 18-49, The Tonight Show has been ahead of The Late Show for the last 24 weeks and in front of Kimmel 15 of the past 17 weeks.