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Leno opens fall strong

'GMA,' 'Early' on rise; revamped 'Week' gains

NEW YORK — NBC’s latenight juggernaut Jay Leno hit a homerun during the first full week of October, capping his best opening of a season over CBS latenight competitor David Letterman in five years. And the Peacock’s “Saturday Night Live” is also off and running to start the season.

For the first three weeks of the 2003-04 TV season, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” held a 53% advantage over the “Late Show with David Letterman” in adults 18-49 and a 51% advantage in total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Peacock’s other latenight host, Conan O’Brien, also posted his best percentage leads in adults 18-49 and total viewers for the first three weeks of a fall season in five years. “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” posted a 71% lead over CBS’ “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.”

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” performed solidly as it bowed for the season on Oct. 4, and again had a strong showing when pop idol Justin Timberlake hosted on Oct. 11. According to Nielsen, “SNL” dominated its latenight time period, as well as outshining every non-sports Saturday primetime telecast in adults 18-49.

And on Saturday, the latenighter averaged a 6.3 rating/13 in local-market overnight results, topping its previous results this season of a 5.6/13 on Oct. 11 and a 6.2/15 on Oct. 4.

Leno gains

For both the week of Oct. 6 and the season, Leno’s “Tonight” was the only network show it its time slot that was up in adults 18-49 and in total viewers — 5% and 3%, respectively — compared to the same time period last year. So far this season, Letterman is down 12% in adults 18-49 and 5% in total viewers. ABC’s news program “Nightline” is down 7% in adults 18-49 and 8% in total viewers.

Leno scored his biggest turnout on Oct. 8, when new California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the show to celebrate his victory in the polls one day earlier. Show pulled a 2.6 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 and 6.5 million viewers.

For the week of Oct. 6, Leno averaged a 2.3 rating/10 share in adults 18-49 and 6.1 million total viewers. Letterman averaged a 1.5 rating/7 share and 3.9 million total viewers.

NBC also continued to dominate Sunday morning, with the Oct. 12 edition of news roundup “Meet the Press with Tim Russert” averaging 56% more total viewers than ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and 63% more viewers than CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

For the third week in a row, ABC’s revamped “This Week” beat “Face.”

The one daypart where NBC was not up to par during the week of Oct. 6 was weekday mornings, with “Today” seeing a 6% dropoff in total viewers and a 5% dropoff in adults 25-54 compared to the same week last year. “Today” continued to dominate overall, but ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “The Early Show” both posted growth over the same week last year.

“Early,” although a distant third, continued to enjoy double-digit growth across all categories compared to the same frame last year, including an 11% jump in total viewers, a 33% percent rise in adults 25-54 and a 40% gain in women 25-54.

Nick sticks with kids

On the Saturday ayem scene, Nick dominated the kids 6-11 demo with a 5.4 rating and 1.3 million kid viewers on Oct. 11. Lead was 29% above Kids WB, which earned a 3.3 rating and 1 million viewers.

While Tadpole might be struggling with 6-11 set, situation reversed among tweens 9-14 with Nick trailing by 27%. Kids WB racked up a 5.1 rating and 1.3 million viewers to Nick’s 3.7 and 917,000.

Despite a spike at the start of the season, gains for Discovery on NBC have started to flatten out. Triple-digit delivery increases of Sept. have slowed down to 11%. On Saturday, Peacock pulled in 133,000 viewers. Net’s new animated skeins don’t launch until Nov. 1.

(Lily Oei contributed to this report.)

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