Letterman loses by a hair

An Olympic-sized lead-in wasn’t enough to put CBS’ David Letterman over the top in his nightly contest against NBC’s Jay Leno last week, but it did help CBS close the gap.

On Friday, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” still beat “The Late Show with David Letterman” by a hair, in spite of a huge lead-in (to the local newscasts that precede Leno and Letterman) provided by CBS’ first night of primetime coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, which averaged an 18.9 household rating and 30 share.

In Nielsen’s 38 metered markets, Leno scored a 5.8/14 last Friday, compared to Letterman’s 5.6/14. NBC’s primetime lead-in, by comparison, was a 7.8/12.

Back in 1994, during CBS’ last Olympics telecast, Letterman trounced Leno on the first night of coverage by 120% in rating. This time around, Leno actually inched up 2% from its Friday average for the season-to-date, while Letterman came within striking distance of Leno for the first time this season.

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