Late-Night Ratings Surprise: ‘Nightline’ Beating Jay and Dave

Nightline (ABC)

Nightline (ABC)

What’s the highest-rated late-night show in America? It’s not Jay or Dave – it’s “Nightline.”

For the first time, the venerable, nightly ABC News show at 11:35/10:35c has emerged as the most-watched show in its time period in a fourth-quarter ratings report. For the three-month period that just ended (October-November-December 2010), “Nightline” drew an average audience of 3.93 million, according to Nielsen figures announced by ABC this week.

That was enough to beat the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on NBC (3.88 million) and “The Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS (3.6 million). “Nightline” – featuring anchors Cynthia McFadden, Terry Moran and Bill Weir – also scored well in the two most important demographic categories – adults 25-54 and 18-49. The ABC News show beat Jay and Dave in the 25-54 demo with 1.61 million. Jay had 1.59 million and Dave, 1.57 million. It was the first time ever that “Nightline” beat the other shows in the 25-54 group in any quarter.

In the younger 18-49 demo, reliable Jay Leno won as usual with 1.29 million, “Nightline” was second with 1.27 million and crotchety David Letterman was third with 1.17 million.

Why did “Nightline” pull ahead of the others in the last three months of 2010? One theory is: “Nightline” might be benefiting from the continuing fragmentation of late-night. As the lone news program on the networks at that hour in a sea of late-night comedy shows, “Nightline” is an attractive alternative (some might say the only alternative) for those who don’t feel like watching the antics of the late-night comedians.

And consider this: The late-night field became even more crowded when Conan O’Brien came aboard in November and began drawing an average of about 1 million viewers nightly to TBS. It’s possible that “Conan” was siphoning just enough viewers from Jay and Dave that it put “Nightline” over the top. Or, it could just be that the folks at “Nightline” are simply doing great shows night after night.

Why do you think “Nightline” has suddenly emerged as top dog in late-night? Any theories?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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