Flagship ABC skein benefits from O'Brien/Leno scrap

For the first time in 15 years, ABC’s “Nightline” is the most-watched program in late night, beating out CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman” and NBC’s troubled “Tonight Show.”

Despite layoffs and fiscal troubles in the news division that culminated in the resignation of David Westin earlier this month, ABC News’ contender in the 11:35 p.m. slot won the season, though the average number of viewers declined slightly: 3.71 million in 2009-10 vs. 3.76 in 2008-09.

The decline is comparatively good news: second-placer “Letterman,” which came third behind “Nightline” in 2008-09, dropped slightly more in average total viewers — about 53,000. The Peacock dealt with a more serious hemorrhage of about 1.1 million pairs of eyes due in large part to the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno “Tonight” debacle — despite the amount of coverage generated by the public departure of O’Brien.

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