UPDATE, 11:20 AM: Jimmy Fallon‘s first Wednesday as host of The Tonight Show may be one he will long remember. Certainly NBC will because with 7.274 million viewers, it marks the highest Wednesday Tonight Show has done in more than 10 years. The last time the late-night franchise had a Wednesday that good was on February 2, 2004, when 7.69 million tuned in. Also Fallon pulled off the rare trick of actually going up in the adults 18-49 demo from his second night to third night. Nielsen has last night’s show drawing a 2.4 rating. That’s better than the 2.0 of Conan O’Brien’s third night of his Tonight Show gig on June 3, 2009 , and it’s a 4% rise from the 2.3 result in the demo Fallon got Tuesday. A rise, however slight, is a feat that neither O’Brien nor Leno could pull off. Both O’Brien in 2009 and Leno in his 2010 return saw their demo ratings dip from night 2 to night 3. O’Brien was down from the 2.3 of his Night 2, while Leno slipped from a 1.6 on March 2, 2010 to a 1.5 on March 3 of that year.
PREVIOUS, 8:23 AM: This is an encouraging sign for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon‘s long-term prospects. In its third outing last night, which featured a round of Charades with guests , , and drew a 5.2 household rating in the metered markets, the highest Tonight result in six years — since January 2, 2008 when Jay Leno was in his first stint as host. That was down only a tenth (2%) from Fallon’s Night 2 and well ahead of Conan O’Brien‘s third Tonight Show (4.3). Both Fallon and O’Brien got off at the same starting point, a 7.1 premiere rating, and were close on Night 2, 5.3 (Fallon) vs. 5.0 (O’Brien). Fallon is still running way ahead of Jay Leno in his 2010 return to the Tonight Show (5.4, 4.6, 4.2). Fallon is expected to get a bump tonight with heavy hitters Michelle Obama and Will Ferrell as guests and will likely do well again Friday with popular guest Justin Timberlake on the heels of the ratings records for the Fallon’s recent teaming with Timberlake on Saturday Night Live.
Fallon’s real test will come next week with no Olympics in NBC’s primetime. Let’s not forget that O’Brien took over the Tonight Show in June, so after the big promotional push for the premiere, he had to rely on NBC’s summer primetime lineup for support. Leno had stronger lead-in for his return from in-season NBC programming but it was no Olympics. NBC’s strategy to move up the Tonight host changeover to February has given Fallon a big weeklong launching pad. So far, he seems to be taking advantage of that, storing much needed momentum heading into next week when he will face his late-night rival on equal footing.