'Tonight Show' farewell nabs 8.8 household rating

Jay Leno signed off “The Tonight Show” on a high note, delivering the best ratings of his 17-year run for a Friday night telecast.

Leno’s swan song averaged an 8.8 household rating/20 share in Nielsen’s 56 overnight metered markets, which cover more than 70% of U.S. TV households. That marks a 126% hike over the show’s metered-market average (3.9) during the past quarter.

Total viewer and demo delivery estimates will be issued by Nielsen later this week, but since “Tonight” was pulling in about 5 million viewers this quarter with an average overnight rating of 3.9, Leno’s farewell seg likely drew well above 10 million viewers.

Auds began flipping over to Leno in higher numbers as his final week on “The Tonight Show” progressed: After Monday’s show drew a 4.1 overnight household rating, the Nielsens grew to a 4.6 on Tuesday, a 4.9 on Wednesday and a 5.2 on Thursday.

Still, Leno’s goodbye on Friday didn’t reach the heights he set just two months ago when President Obama guested on the show March 19. That Thursday seg drew an 11.2/26 in the overnights, which was Leno’s best since his tribute to his “Tonight Show” predecessor Johnny Carson following Carson’s death in January 2005, which delivered a 12.4 household rating.

Back in 1992, Carson wrapped his 30-year “Tonight Show” tenure with a 31.9 rating/62 share in the metered markets.

Leno’s farewell, of course, is muted because the host is heading right back to NBC’s air this fall with a nightly 10 p.m. variety show.

Leno’s coattails took NBC’s fledgling “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” to its second-best number (3.8/12) since Fallon’s March 2 debut. Fallon’s best to date (3.9/13) was the night of Obama’s appearance on “The Tonight Show.”

NBC will do its best to pump up its primetime performance on O’Brien’s first couple of nights on “Tonight,” starting this evening with the premiere of reality skein “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” and a firstrun seg of “Medium” and then continuing Tuesday with the season finale of the net’s top-rated 10 o’clock skein, “Law and Order: SVU.”

For his part, Leno will lay low this summer at NBC as he prepares for his stripped 10 p.m. program on the Peacock beginning in September. A start date hasn’t been announced for “The Jay Leno Show,” but it’s expected that NBC will want to avoid launching the program during the opening week of the new television season, which begins Sept. 21.

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