Obama gives stimulus bump to NBC

'Tonight' draws highest ratings in four years

Barack Obama gave a stimulus bump to NBC and Jay Leno with his “Tonight Show” appearance on Thursday, drawing the show’s highest ratings in four years.

Coming before Leno’s May departure from “The Tonight Show,” the boffo perf gave Peacock execs plenty of optimism for the host’s new primetime weeknight strip.

“Jay is the to-go guy for event-type bookings,” said NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chair Ben Silverman, pointing to the Obama appearance. “He will be the guy whose show you’ll want to go on. In the fall, the show’s going to have an anything-can-happen-here vibe. And the question of who’s going to be on the show will drive up interest.”

Silverman said discussions are ongoing over how the new Leno show will take shape. Details are still hush-hush, but Silverman said the primetime skein won’t be called “The Jay Leno Show”; an actual title is now being tested.

The network is also in the process of figuring out where Leno’s new show will be taped; contrary to what was originally announced, the show will likely move from “The Tonight Show’s” current studio at NBC’s Burbank facilities. (“The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” will tape at a new studio on the Universal lot.)

According to some insiders, NBC has been talking to Leno about evolving his show format in order to differentiate it from “The Tonight Show” (which O’Brien takes over June 1) and appeal to younger primetime viewers.

“There’s an opportunity to really eventize the show,” Silverman said. “(We’re looking) to make it distinct and it should play perfectly in primetime, where there is a massive audience.

“It will still be a comedy show, but with more segments and formats.”

Silverman said Leno plans to leave the studio more often and will add features of a scale suited for primetime.

Thursday’s “Tonight Show” seg garnered an 11.2 household rating/26 share in Nielsen’s overnight metered markets, which cover more than 70% of U.S. TV households. That matched the number the Leno latenighter pulled in January 2005 with a tribute seg following the death of Johnny Carson. “The Tonight Show” hasn’t topped that number since the night of the “Seinfeld” finale in May 1998, when the show pulled a 12.4 household rating.

Thursday’s rating amounted to a whopping 187% spike over “The Tonight Show’s” average this season of 3.9 household rating.

The Obama lift also boosted Leno’s newbie companion “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” to its highest numbers in its three weeks on air. Fallon pulled a 3.9/13 in the overnights.

“There was a definite halo effect,” Silverman said. Silverman attended the “Tonight Show” taping featuring Obama and said he was impressed with the “electricity” in the studio.

Most of the day-two reaction from Obama’s appearance revolved around his Special Olympics gaffe. When referring to his weak bowling skills, Obama compared it to being in the Special Olympics. The president apologized soon after, contacting Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver, who accepted the mea culpa.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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