Conan vs. Jay: Dramatic Decline in ‘Tonight’ Audience

By Andrew Gauthier 

The New York Times

While much of the focus about NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno to prime time has centered on Mr. Leno’s ratings in the 10 p.m. hour, the move has clearly had fallout in the area Mr. Leno vacated, the perennial late-night leader, “The Tonight Show.”

The new “Tonight” host, Conan O’Brien, has been lagging behind his CBS rival David Letterman in recent weeks, but a more telling comparison may be the difference between the performance of “Tonight” this year and last year when Mr. Leno was still the host.


The simple conclusion: Mr. O’Brien is down from Mr. Leno across the board. The more complicated question is why:

The reasons range from a surge for CBS’s rival late-night star, David Letterman, to the diminished audiences that are now being delivered to “Tonight” from both the 10 p.m. hour on NBC and the local newscasts that start at 11 p.m. Of course, the reasons also include defections from viewers who simply preferred Mr. Leno to Mr. O’Brien. More…