Jimmy Kimmel grew his audience on his first night at 11:35 p.m., but his nemesis, Jay Leno, still beat him.
Kimmel did top his boyhood idol, David Letterman, though, on the first night of head-to-head competition between Leno’s “Tonight Show” on NBC, Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS, and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC.
For Kimmel, 45, the news on his first night in his new time period was mostly good. His show drew 3.097 million viewers Tuesday night, according to ABC — up substantially from the 1.9 million viewers the show was averaging when it started at midnight (11 p.m. central time).
That means, of course, that ABC will get to make a whole lot more money from the ad time they sell during the “Kimmel” show (particularly if the show can sustain its first-night audience growth).
But the “Leno” show held steady with 3.274 million viewers, only slightly less than the 3.3 million it averaged during the fourth quarter of 2012.
Ironically, the man who Kimmel idolizes most in all of TV, Letterman, seemed to be the hardest hit by Kimmel’s move into the earlier time period. The “Letterman” show had an audience of 2.882 million, losing about 200,000 viewers off of its average from last year of 3.1 million viewers per episode.
While winning in the total-viewer count confers bragging rights upon the first-place finisher in a race like this, the demographic numbers are actually more important to the networks because they are crucial in setting the rates the network’s charge for commercial time.
And you know who leads in the competition to capture viewers 18-49? Jay Leno, 62. On Tuesday night, “The Tonight Show” had 1.084 million viewers in the demo, vs. 887,000 for “Kimmel” and even less for Letterman, 683,000 (based on our interpretation of ABC’s ratings report). For Kimmel, though, the 887,000 represented an increase in 18-49s, ABC noted.
Our take: We fully expected Kimmel to see some audience increases in his first night in the new time period due to increased sampling generated by all the pre-move publicity Kimmel received. We admit we’re surprised he gained enough viewers to beat Letterman, though heaven only knows if Kimmel can maintain that lead over Dave. The real test for Kimmel will be the results going forward, as viewers become accustomed to his presence in the earlier time period and then either stick with him or return to their Letterman and Leno habits.