UPDATE, 11:46AM: Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show has outdone the host’s first departure in 2009 to hit its highest viewership numbers since 1998. Last night’s farewell was seen by 14.637 million viewers, numbers not seen since the 14.962 million that watched when Jerry Seinfeld showed up as a guest on May 14, 1998 when his hit primetime show ended. With a 3.8 rating among adults 18-49, last night’s Tonight hit its best demo result since the 4.4 of January 22, 2010 when Conan O’Brien ended his brief stint fronting the late night show. Leno drew over 11.9 million viewers when he first signed off Tonight on May 29, 2009.
Related: Jay Leno’s Final ‘Tonight Show’
Last night’s show was the 4th best viewership result since Leno took over from Johnny Carson in 1992. The all-time top Tonight Show of Leno’s reign was the 22.4 million who watched on May 20, 1993 with the Cheers cast after their finale. Number #2 was Leno’s May 25, 1992 debut, which had 16.1 million viewers and number #3 was that May 14, 1998 visit by Jerry Seinfeld. Leno’s last show was up 283% from The Tonight Show’s season viewership average of 3.822 million. Lead-out Late Night With Jimmy Fallon garnered 6.014 million viewers last night and 2.0 rating. That’s the best Late Night has ever done with the exception of the 6.087 million viewers the show got in a post-Super Bowl 2012 special. In regular weekday broadcasts last night’s Fallon is a record for the former SNL cast member and the best an NBC Late Night show has done since David Letterman’s final show on June 25, 1993.
PREVIOUS, 6;32AM In the end, Jay Leno left The Tonight Show on top — way on top. The longtime host bid farewell to late-night with his highest ratings since March 2009. Last night’s finale pulled in a whooping 9.2 household rating in the metered markets. That’s the best the show has done since March 19, 2009, when President Obama made his maiden appearance on the show as the first sitting president to do a late-night program. It also was higher than Leno’s previous The Tonight Show finale in May 2009, which drew an 8.8 rating. Leno almost tripled Tonight Show‘s delivery from last Thursday, when the show posted a 3.5 rating. The rating caps a strong last week for Leno, in which he had been building in the ratings every night, with a 3.9 on Monday, 4.2 on Tuesday and 4.3 on Wednesday.
Leno’s exit gave a big boost to successor Jimmy Fallon who had his best ratings night ever. Late Night With Jimmy Fallon drew a 4.6 rating last night, up from a 1.9 last Thursday. That beats Fallon’s previous high of a 4.2 from Super Bowl Sunday 2012 and easily eclipses his weeknight best of 3.9 from March 19, 2009, his third week as host.