The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has posted its second-quarter ratings, the first full quarter since Leno took the job back from Conan O’Brien, and they are the lowest they’ve been since The Late Show with David Letterman debuted in 1993, which is not a good sign for them, since Leno’s numbers where really not good considering how skewed they were towards Letterman back then.
Leno averaged 4 million viewers and a 1.1/4 share with adults 18-49, the key demo everyone raves about. Of course, he still managed to top Letterman’s 3.3 million and 0.9/4 share over the quarter, but it’s Dave’s most competitive finish against The Tonight Show since 1995, when the Hugh Grant hooker scandal shifted the ratings war toward Leno. The Late Show is now tracking at about the same place it was before O’Brien was replaced.
Of course, the television landscape is very different now than it was in 1993, when there was barely an internet to speak of at all. The Arsenio Hall Show may not be around to compete with Leno and Letterman anymore, but now there’s The Colbert Report, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Lopez Tonight and hundreds of channels to funnel off viewers.
So perhaps it’s not fair to expect Leno to match his highs with The Tonight Show, but there’s never even any buzz about watching him anymore. Perhaps the ugly tug-of-war over the 11:30pm slot has made Leno damaged goods that people avoid out of spite, when before he was just harmless middle-of-the-road chuckles to fall asleep watching if you weren’t a fan of Dave’s acerbic oddness. It’s also possible that things might pick up for Leno this fall once NBC actually has a prime-time schedule to speak of again, providing the proper lead-ins that Leno’s disastrous 10pm show didn’t, which effectively torpedoed O’Brien’s numbers in the first place.
Of course, when O’Brien’s TBS show kicks off this November, that’ll be one more competitor to siphon off eyeballs from Leno.