NBC opens up latenight lead

Leno, Fallon win slots; 'Conan' still solid for TBS

Perhaps boosted by NBC’s improved standing in primetime’s closing hour, the Peacock’s latenight leaders last week enjoyed their biggest demo advantages of the season over rival talkers.

And the net’s surge extended to the weekend, where “Saturday Night Live” hit a season high.

For a third straight week, “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” topped all latenight talkshows, including TBS’ “Conan,” which has the advantage of airing earlier and not playing on Friday, a lightly watched night for all of TV.

Nonetheless, “Conan” continues to perform well for the Turner cabler, staying above 1 million adults 18-49 every week since bowing to more than 2 million in early November and significantly boosting the timeslot’s year-ago average.

Looking closer at the Nielsen “live plus same-day” estimates for the week of Dec. 6-10, NBC’s “Tonight” (1.35 million adults 18-49 viewers, 3.89 million viewers overall) opened up a 29% advantage in the demo over CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” (1.05 million in the demo, 3.68 million overall) — compared with a 1% edge a year ago for Letterman when he opposed Conan O’Brien as “Tonight” host.

And in total viewers, the 11:35 p.m. NBC show’s 6% edge is a reversal from last year, when Letterman topped O’Brien by 66% (4.40 million vs. 2.65 million).

CBS has dominated primetime this fall, but last week NBC led a week in adults 18-49 for the first time, likely giving a boost to latenight. NBC won in demos at 10:30 p.m. both Tuesday (“The Biggest Loser”) and Friday (“Dateline”) and was more competitive on the other nights as well.

TBS’ “Conan” averaged 1.04 million adults 18-49 and 1.39 million viewers overall. And at ABC, half-hour 11:35 p.m. news series “Nightline” averaged 1.3 million adults 18-49 and 4.25 million viewers overall, while the net’s hourlong “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (12:05-1:05 a.m.) averaged 701,000 viewers in the demo and 1.72 million viewers overall.

In the 12:35 a.m. hour, NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” delivered its biggest 18-49 audience of the season and its biggest margin over CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” (875,000 vs. 631,000), while the shows were neck and neck in total viewers (nearly 1.8 million apiece).

Season to date (12 weeks for most shows and five weeks for the TBS skeins), “Conan” is the top 18-49 draw among latenight news, talk and variety shows, averaging 1.46 million viewers — up 66% from what “Lopez Tonight” did in the 11 p.m. hour for the same timeframe a year ago (882,000).

They were followed by ABC’s “Nightline” (1.28 million), NBC’s “Tonight Show” (1.27 million), CBS’ “Late Show” (1.17 million), Comedy Central’s 11 o’clock combo of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Show” (980,000) and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (709,000). TBS’ “Lopez,” now airing at midnight, is averaging 583,000 (down about 50% from its 11 p.m. showing a year ago).

NBC’s “Tonight” is closing the seasonlong gap with “Conan” after outdrawing the TBS series in 18-49 for three straight weeks. And since O’Brien’s first week on TBS, “Tonight” has held a comfortable edge in the shows’ common 11:30 half-hour (last week winning roughly 1.4 million to 900,000).

In season-to-date total viewers, ABC’s “Nightline” is the latenight leader (3.94 million), followed by NBC’s “Tonight Show” (3.81 million), CBS’ “Late Show” (3.57 million) and TBS’ “Conan” (1.96 million).

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” meanwhile, hit season highs in both adults 18-49 (2.7 rating/11 share, or roughly 3.6 million viewers in the age bracket) and total viewers (7.6 million) with its Dec. 11 telecast hosted by Paul Rudd and featuring musical guest Paul McCartney.

Demo score is the best for “SNL” since its May 15 season finale, and it’s the largest overall aud since the May 8 edition hosted by Betty White.

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