Leno on Top, Letterman Second as Kimmel Falls to Third Place

Jay Leno (left) solidified his lead, while David Letterman beat upstart Jimmy Kimmel in the new three-way late-night race Wednesday night (Photos: NBC, CBS, ABC)

Jimmy Kimmel fell into third place on Night Two of his long-awaited entrance into the late-night race at 11:35 p.m.

Kimmel’s show — “Jimmy Kimmel Live” — lost 238,000 viewers on Wednesday night, compared to Tuesday night, which was the first night of his much-ballyhooed switch from a midnight start time to 11:35 p.m. eastern time.

The move placed his show (and his network) against “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on NBC and “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS — creating a three-way competition between late-night talk shows for the first time in the history of network television.

With all the publicity surrounding the move, it was inevitable that Kimmel would see his ratings jump on Night One, when he drew 3.097 million viewers. That number soared over Kimmel’s former average from midnight to 1 a.m. — 1.9 million during the fourth quarter of 2012. It was also enough to beat his idol, David Letterman, in the ratings on Tuesday night, but not Kimmel’s sworn enemy, Jay Leno, who came in first on that night.

But with Kimmel declining on Wednesday, both Dave and Jay spiked upwards, with Dave finishing in second place and Leno climbing significantly and solidifying his lead in the time period. On Wednesday, the audience tallies were: “Leno,” 3.55 million; “Letterman,” 3.039 million; and “Kimmel,” 2.859 million. On Tuesday night, the pecking order was: “Leno,” 3.274 million; “Kimmel,” 3.097 million; and “Letterman,” 2.882 million.

Watch the show that beat Letterman and Kimmel Wednesday night, “The Tonight Show”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Tonight-Show-With-Jay-Leno/8687230020288550112/14244419695/Wed%2C-Jan-9%2C-2013/embed 580 476]

The “Kimmel” show did notch significant gains in the demographic ABC is targeting with his show — viewers 18-49. Leno, 62, still led in the category Wednesday night with 1.089 million 18-49s, but Kimmel, 45, was not far behind with 1.083 million. Letterman, 65, drew 998,000 in the demo Wednesday night.

Our take: We expect Kimmel to continue to see some declines in audience until leveling off at a level of viewership that we cautiously predict will keep him in third place, but with a total audience that will be somewhat larger than the 1.9 million he was averaging at midnight. We also expect him to continue drawing a healthy share of younger viewers (the aforementioned 18-49 group). When everything shakes out, we expect Leno and Letterman to lead Kimmel in total audience, but he just might beat them in attracting the younger generation of viewers advertisers crave. In the end, everyone will make money.

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

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