US TV host Conan O'Brien leads in late night ratings

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Television ratings for Conan O'Brien's NBC program The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien have risen dramatically amidst controversy and the possibility that the host might leave the network. Nielsen ratings as of Friday showed that O'Brien's ratings were higher than CBS network's David Letterman. O'Brien also beat out Jay Leno's prime-time program, The Jay Leno Show, in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic.

Conan O'Brien in 2007
Image: John J. Kruzel/American Forces Press Service.

According to the Nielsen data, O'Brien's ratings saw a 50 percent increase over prior numbers for the season. NBC utilizes data from the 18-to-49-year-old demographic in order to determine what prices to set for advertising.

On Saturday, NBC was continuing to hold settlement discussions in order to allow The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien host to leave the network and replace O'Brien in the 11:35 p.m. EST time slot with former host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno.

People who never watched Conan before are saying, 'I'll try it.' Now they're saying, 'this is good, I'll stick with it.'"

—Gavin Polone

O'Brien's manager, Gavin Polone, spoke positively of the ratings increase, "People who never watched Conan before are saying, 'I'll try it.' Now they're saying, 'this is good, I'll stick with it.'"

Polone emphasized in a statement that O'Brien paid his own writers during the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike and was attempting to have a say with regard to the severance packages of his employees. He noted that many of O'Brien's staff members moved from New York to California when the TV host began working on The Tonight Show.

Representatives for O'Brien cite poor ratings of Leno's prime-time program The Jay Leno Show, and subsequent poor ratings of NBC late local news, as having an effect on ratings of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien prior to the recent controversy.

The late night hosts have been discussing the recent NBC time slot controversy via jokes on their shows. O'Brien showed a skit where he had to dodge gunfire while attempting to go to work on the NBC lot. Leno made a joke referencing a statement from last year where Letterman admitted he had had affairs with women on his staff. "Even Dave Letterman is taking shots at me, which surprised me. Usually he's just taking shots at the interns," said Leno.

Bill Carter of The New York Times commented that O'Brien, "has turned the attention surrounding his departure into a ratings bonanza." New York Daily News noted, "Well, at least he's going out on top," and commented, "... all eyes are on him now".

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  Learn more about Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show host and timeslot conflict on Wikipedia.