ABC’s latenight show sprints past competition

While most of the attention in latenight has surrounded the battle between David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, ABC’s “Nightline” has quietly enjoyed a strong fall.

Building on momentum it created over the summer and boosted by stories including the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings, health care and the re-emergence of Sarah Palin, “Nightline” edged past its timeslot rivals to claim November in adults 18-49 and total viewers — its first such parlay in any sweep month.

Overall, it was a competitive month between the latenight leaders in adults 18-49, with “Nightline,” CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” and NBC’s “Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” all finishing within 80,000 viewers of each other. In a troubling sign for latenight, though — and evidence that auds are increasingly using post-primetime to play back shows on their DVRs — all three programs were down in demos vs. November 2008.

Looking at the sweep, Nielsen estimates that “Nightline” averaged 4.15 million viewers, followed closely by “Late Show” (4.12 million), with “Tonight” well behind (2.39 million). And in adults 18-49, leader “Nightline” (1.38 million) was only slightly ahead of both “Late Show” (1.31 million) and “Tonight” (1.30 million).

It was fairly tight in adults 25-54, as well, where “Late Show” (1.67 million) edged “Nightline” (1.64 million), and “Tonight” running third (1.33 million). “Nightline” does enjoy an advantage in comparisons with fellow 11:35 p.m. shows “Late Show” and “Tonight,” since it airs for only 30 minutes while the talkers run an hour and their auds tend to dwindle in the second half-hour.

For CBS, numbers repped the first time that “Late Show” finished ahead of “Tonight Show” in adults 25-54 and total viewers since 1994; this was also its most competitive finish since then in 18-49.

NBC’s “Tonight Show” took the biggest tumble vs. last year, when Jay Leno served as host, declining by 25% in 18-49 (1.30 million vs. 1.74m) and shedding more than half of its overall audience (2.39 million vs. 4.97 million). “Late Show” dropped by 13% in 18-49 (1.31 million vs. 1.51m) and was on par in total viewers (4.12m vs. 4.08m).

“Nightline” declined by 18% in 18-49 (1.38 million vs. 1.70m) and by 7% in total viewers vs. last year, when intense interest in the presidential election boosted its figures.

Also of note in the ratings world, USA’s “Monk” wrapped its eight-year run Friday by delivering the largest audience for any original drama on basic cable (9.44 million); it had never topped 7 million viewers prior to this season and had averaged 5.82 million for its penultimate episode the previous week.

“Monk” hit series highs in both adults 18-49 (3.2 million viewers) and adults 25-54 (3.7 million), with these totals standing as the No. 1 scripted cable telecast for the calendar year.

“It’s truly gratifying to have been on the air for eight years and to finish the run with a beautiful episode that people wanted to be a part of,” said Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, an exec producer of the series.

On Saturday, CBS scored a record overnight rating for its coverage of college football’s SEC Championship game between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama. The contest, which determined one of the two participants in the sport’s championship game next month, earned an 11.8 household rating/24 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights — up 13% from last year’s 10.4/21 for the SEC title game between the same teams.

Rating is the best ever for the SEC Championship game since its debut in 1992, and the contest was the highest-rated regular season college football game on CBS since 1989 (14.6 rating for Notre Dame-Miami). Among non-bowl games on any net, the overnight was the in three years (since Ohio State-Michigan pulled a 13.7 on ABC).

And final numbers for NBC’s coverage of the 83rd annual “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” showed the event drawing its largest overall audience in eight years (22.3 million) and its best 18-49 score (6.5 rating/27 share) in five years. This would have made it the week’s top-rated telecast, besting primetime heavyweights like “Dancing With the Stars,” “NCIS” and “Desperate Housewives.” This year’s parade, hosted by Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Al Roker of NBC’s “Today,” was up 7% in 18-49 and 3% in total viewership vs. last year.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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