Jay Leno Usher Ratings

'Tonight Show' opens up wide demo advantage over CBS' 'Late Show,' which finishes third

NBC’s latenight duo of Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon continued their spring hot streak last week, drawing their largest young-adult audiences in more than four months.

Nielsen estimates that “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” averaged 1.12 million adults 18-49 for the week of May 13-17, well ahead of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (792,000) and CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” (738,000). A year ago at this time, Leno and Letterman were in a virtual tie with about 990,000.

This was the biggest 18-49 audience for Leno since mid-December, while it repped a season low for a week of Letterman originals. Leno has now topped Letterman in 18-49 for 26 consecutive weeks, and has beaten Kimmel in 17 of 19 weeks.

“Tonight” also dominated in total viewers with 3.62 million (up 5% from last year), with “Late Show” averaging 2.69 million (down 15%). “JKL” (2.40 million) was up 37% from its episode of a year ago, which began at midnight.

NBC could be benefiting from a stronger finish relative to CBS in primetime, especially in the 10:30 p.m. half-hour. In the comparable week a year ago, CBS crushed NBC in adults 18-49 during the final 30 minutes of primetime (2.6 to 1.4), but last week that advantage was much smaller (1.6 to 1.5). ABC (1.9) matched its year-ago average.

“Tonight Show” could also be picking up viewers who a year ago were watching “Nightline” on ABC. While “JKL” continues to deliver sizable gains vs. its later starting time of last year, in the same week in 2012 it was “Nightline” that was the No. 1 latenight program in adults 18-49 (1.16 million) as well as total viewers.

In the 12:35 a.m. hour, NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” averaged 700,000 viewers adults 18-49 (up 8% from the comparable week a year ago) — its largest demo audience since New Year’s week. CBS’ “Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson” (442,000) was off by 21% from last week for its second lowest average of the season for originals.

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