Strong Ratings for Leno’s Return to Late-Night

Jay Leno  (NBC)

Jay Leno (NBC)

NEW YORK — After a smashing return, Jay Leno appears headed to a battle with David Letterman for late-night television supremacy.

The Nielsen Co. says Leno averaged 5.6 million viewers last week, his first back at NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show‘ following the ill-fated prime time experiment. Letterman had 3.7 million at CBS. Leno took advantage of curiosity over his return and a strong lineup of guests, including Olympic stars and Sarah Palin. It was a half-million more than he averaged his last season at ‘Tonight.’

It’s been much closer the second week. Through four nights, Leno is averaging 4.3 million viewers and Letterman has 4 million.

Considering Leno usually beat Letterman by a million and a half during their last season of competition, that’s a sign of erosion for NBC’s late-night franchise. Letterman consistently beat Conan O’Brien after O’Brien took over last year.

For comparison’s sake, take a look at clips from Letterman and Leno’s Thursday night monologues below:

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/The-Late-Show-With-David-Letterman/90389/1438752424/David-Letterman—Dave-s-Monologue%2C-Part-2—3-11-10/embed 580 476]
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/The-Tonight-Show-With-Jay-Leno/4514/1438588197/Monologue%3A-Mar-11%2C-2010/embed 580 476]
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