Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “The Chevy Chase Show” generated enough curiosity to chase down some strong premiere numbers Tuesday, but the real story in latenight may be the continued performance of CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”

According to national Nielsen figures, Chase scored a 5.7 rating/13 share, barely edging “Late Show With David Letterman” (5.6/18) for top rating honors in the daypart.

But in the half-hour that the two shows went head to head, Letterman won hands down with a 6.1/17 vs. Chase’s 5.1/14. NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” which averaged a 3.3/10 for the entire hour, trailed Chase with a 4.0/11 from 11 :35 p.m. to midnight.

“Chase,” which gets a jump by starting at 11 p.m. (compared to 11:35 for the three network shows), aired in 94% of the U.S. and had 87% “in-pattern” clearances — actually a higher percentage than the roughly 70% “live” coverage both Letterman and “Nightline” enjoy.

Fox officials, who will have to endure a critical skewering based on early reviews, were heartened by the fact that “Chase” actually improved its share for the second half-hour, from 13 to 14, despite an 18% rating decline.

That drop in the second halfhour is about in keeping with what Fox projected with advertisers — an average 5 rating for the show’s first half-hour and a 4 rating during the second half.

By way of comparison, “Tonight” was averaging around a 4.6 rating for its full hour prior to the premiere of “Late Show,” which CBS sold at a 4.1 household rating, anticipating a strong skew toward younger viewers.

“Late Show” has so far had an easy time vying against “Tonight.” Monday, with both shows up against the high-rated season premiere of “Monday Night Football,” CBS grabbed a 5.1/16 to NBC’s 3.4/10.

Although officials have said it will take a few weeks to sort early sampling out of the latenight equation, David Poltrack, CBS senior VP of research and planning, said Letterman’s ability to essentially equal the Chase rating (and surpass its share) signals his show’s strength “given the history of extraordinary first-night ratings for new latenight programs.”

Chase was not surprisingly stronger Tuesday in the major Nielsen overnight markets, averaging a 6.9/16 overall, with a 7.5/16 in its first half-hour and 6. 4/17 once the talk competition turned up. “Late Show” (7.0/19) was first from 11 :30-midnight by that standard, followed by Chase, “Nightline” (6.3/17) and “The Tonight Show” (5.4/14).

Locally, the Chase show was first with a 10.6/27 on KTTV, more than doubling the station’s recent average in the hour with “Cops” and “MASH” repeats.

Kevin O’Brien, general manager of Fox affil KTVU in San Francisco and a member of the Fox affiliate board of governors, noted that Arsenio Hall received initial negative reviews for his syndie show, and he insisted that affiliates continue to stand behind the effort and that Fox plans to “aggressively work” to improve the show.

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