Nine years ago, ABC brass were ready to dump Nightline for David Letterman. Boy, aren’t today’s bigwigs at the company happy that didn’t happen. The veteran ABC newsmagazine beat both CBS Late Show With David Letterman and NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno among adults 18-49 during premiere week for the first time ever. Nightline, which airs from 11:35 PM-midnight, saw its audience grow 7% vs. last fall to 3.9 million. In adults 19-49, it averaged 1.3 million, even with last year. Its companion, Jimmy Kimmel Live was also strong out of the gate, drawing its second-largest premiere week audience ever (1.8 million) and 790,000 adults 18-49, up 5%.

In comparison, NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno and CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman were neck-and-neck in 18-49 (1.07 million vs. 1.05 million) but both down double-digits, 20% (Leno) and 16% (Letterman). In total viewers, Leno (3.6 million) was off by 4%, Letterman (3.2 million) by 15%. CBS’ ratings declines carried over to the 12:35 AM shows. Somewhat surprisingly, NBC’s younger-skewing Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, which has had a great year capped by a first ever best music/comedy/variety series Emmy nomination, was down 16% in 18-49 to 695,000. CBS’ Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (607,000) was down a more modest 7%. NBC was hurt by a weaker prime time lead-in heading into local news. The network averaged a 2 demo rating in the 10:30 half-hour last week, vs. a 2.7 for ABC and CBS.