Since the mid-’90s, the only time David Letterman and the “Late Show” have come out ahead of “The Tonight Show” for any extended period of time was during the seven months Conan O’Brien hosted the show and its ratings sank like a stone tied to a brick. Other than that, though, it was no contest: if Jay Leno was behind the “Tonight” desk, more often than not, Jay won.
Which is why the Deadline’s news of Letterman’s historic November sweeps victory comes as a pretty big surprise. He hasn’t beaten “Tonight” in the key 18-49 demo in November since 1994, which includes the Conan era.
Now, to be honest, a closer look at the numbers tempers the good news for CBS a bit: Letterman’s victory came because his audience in the key demo stayed flat compared to November 2010, while Leno’s declined by 20%. What’s also interesting is that, while Letterman’s total audience is off by 8% compared to last year, Leno’s total audiences is only off by 4%. If only networks cared about the 50-and-over crowd, right?
There’s better news for the other CBS late-night show: “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” was the only show to gain in the key demo, even though its total audience went down. “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” surprisingly went down in the younger demo, despite the show’s younger-skewing vibe.
The news is best, though, for someone who has been sneaking up on America for nine years: Jimmy Kimmel. Not only did “Jimmy Kimmel Live” not lose any viewers in the 18-49 group over last year, he’s the only late night show that gained total viewers. To us, that’s a sign that the new King of Late Night may already be in our midst.
Watch Brian Regan on the “Late Show”: