Latenight stalwarts unfazed by upstarts

The influx of new syndie competition in latenight that began with the much-hyped Aug. 4 debut of “Vibe” and “The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show” hasn’t dented the ratings of the established players in the field.

NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” towered above the competition with a 5.0 household rating for the week of Aug. 4, compared with a respectable 2.2 household average in its premiere week for Columbia TriStar’s “Vibe.” National ratings for “Wayans” were not available Wednesday due to a glitch in Nielsen’s tabulation process.

“Vibe” pulled in a 2.2 household rating, which translated to an average of 2.8 million total viewers each night. That’s lower than the premiere-week ratings for other 1990s latenight aspirants such as Whoopi Goldberg, Chevy Chase and Dennis Miller, but higher than the most recent syndie latenight launches: “Last Call,” which earned a 1.2 in fall 1994, and “Stephanie Miller,” with a 1.5 in fall ’95.

“Vibe,” a talk-variety vehicle hosted by comedian Chris Spencer and executive produced by Quincy Jones and David Salzman, is aimed at young, urban viewers. In its first week, “Vibe” scored respectable, if not spectacular, ratings with its target audience. “Vibe” fared best with women 18-34, pulling in a 1.9, compared with a 1.4 with men 18-34.

“These are first-week numbers and we’re very pleased that the data shows we’re reaching the audience we told advertisers and stations that we’re going for,” said Barry Thurston, president of Columbia TriStar Television Distribution. “But we’ve still got a long way to go and grow.”

While both got off to promising starts, both “Vibe” and “Wayans” have been slipping from week to week in Nielsen’s metered market overnight surveys. “Vibe” bowed with a 2.8/7 in week one, followed by a 2.2/5 in week two (Aug. 11); “Wayans” came out swinging with a 3.5/9 in week one, dipping to a 3.0/8 in week two.

After being embroiled in latenight warring just a few years ago, NBC’s Rick Ludwin, senior VP of specials, primetime series and latenight, is enjoying his network’s comfortable perch at the top of the latenight pack. Since January, “The Tonight Show” has posted 8% growth in its target adults 18-49 demographic, compared with the same period last year, in spite of new competition from ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” and now “Vibe” and “Wayans.”

“Any way you slice it, ‘The Tonight Show’ is No. 1, and we’re growing,” said Ludwin.

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