Jay Leno Going Out on Top, Has Best Week in Ratings Since 2010

Tonight Show Ratings

Viewers continue to flock to Jay Leno as he wraps his “Tonight Show” stint, with his final full week drawing the program’s largest audience since the comic returned as host nearly four years ago.

Nielsen estimates that an average nightly audience of 4.99 million viewers tuned in to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” during the week of Jan. 27-31 — up about 30% from the comparable week a year ago — as it crushed its ABC and CBS competition. CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman,” which aired a few repeats during the week, averaged about 3 million, and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” drew about 2.4 million.

The last time Leno drew more viewers in a week was March 1-5, 2010 — his first week back for his second stint in the host’s chair of “The Tonight Show.”

Through 19 weeks, “Tonight” is enjoying its most-watched season in five years. And Leno exits “Tonight” on a 67-week winning streak in total viewers against rival Letterman’s CBS show.

In adults 18-49, “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last week had its best showing (1.42 million viewers) since November 2010, and is enjoying its best season in three years.

Guests during Leno’s final full week included Tim Allen, Dana Carvey, Miley Cyrus, Bill Maher and Wanda Sykes. Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks are among the guests tonight for  his final show.

Of course, heir-to-the-throne Jimmy Fallon is doing very well too, with his “Late Night” average of 2.38 million viewers last week about 30% higher than a year ago and its best since May 2009 (the final week before Conan O’Brien took over “Tonight” hosting duties from Leno).

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  1. Greg says:

    Another Zucker fiasco now behind us….can’t wait until he finishes his destruction of CNN so he can hobble over to MSNBC and complete his grand slam…..

  2. juju says:

    I know this would never happen but would love to see Leno host the Oscars in the very near future. Maybe they would get an audience!

  3. chuck kasper says:

    Leno was tops for both interviewing guests and using his quick wit for humor but not demean his guests.
    Comcast really drove their Brinks money truck over a cliff when they decided to end Leno’s show.

  4. Gracie says:

    Jay you are a class act. Late night tv watching will never be the same. There aren’t a lot of comedians that actually have me laughing out loud like you. Jay you have kept your integrity and grace through out the past twenty-two years, and you should feel very proud. Please come back to do Christmas specials or other specials two or three times a year. Just don’t go away for good. Your style of comedy is timeless.

  5. Robin says:

    Loved all of the nice comments about Jay. I am a big big fan here in the Big state of Texas . I cried like a baby on his last show. He will be missed terribly! Awesome man he is! Hopefully he will not have to retire. It is like we all are married to him watching him for the last 22 years that is a long time in tv years. Every minute pure joy. I feel like there are great things for him yet, I thought this the last time NBC tried to retire him. You would think NBC would get the hint and listen to the fans that love him so much. Oh we’ll guess we will see once again, thanks Jay for all of your witty wisdom and zest for life hang in there!!
    Ms Robin

  6. cadavra says:

    I can’t see Fox affiliates giving up their lucrative late-night reruns for Leno. CNN, on the other hand, is a definite possibility, as they’re barely registering a pulse. Of course, if NBC had any brains, they’d simply move him to one of their cable networks, like Bravo or even MSNBC (which just airs repeats in late night). But as we all know…

    • Greg says:

      Fox would seem a good fit. CNN, on the other hand, especially with Zucker involved would only turn it into a fiasco and I think Jay would be a complete fool to work for that guy again. I’d love to see him go to MSNBC. He would reign supreme, with much greater credibility over those clowns passing themselves off as journalists…….I can see it now “MSNBC Nightly News with Jay Leno”…..

  7. Just Confused says:



  8. Just Confused says:

    IMHO: Future VARIETY headline:


    or am I……just confused?

  9. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes (chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group) would be wise to sign Leno to a multi-year, big bucks contract. Also, Leno’s Burbank studio is not owned by NBC, so Fox could get that for the new Leno show too.

    The switch would be seamless. Also, CNN might be in the bidding for Leno’s talents.

    As nice as Jimmy Fallon might be, he cannot hold a candle to Jay. The same is true of Letterman, Conan and the rest of the late-night hosts. Jay will keep blowing them away.

    • Chris Lucas says:

      Timothy, I’m not so sure Fallon will fail like O’Brien did. O’Brien is an acquired taste, a little off kilter and weird (he DOES, after all, make babies cry when they look at him). Fallon will come off like the “nice son” to older viewers. But you are right when you say no one can hold a candle to Jay. He reaches people of all ages (I was in his audience twice in the past 4 years and there were a ton of college-aged people and older.)

      • Thank you, Chris, for your comments.

        Both Fallon and O’Brien will stay where they are today, in terms of ratings, if or rather when Jay comes back on Fox or CNN. The same will be true of Letterman and the other late-night hosts.

        There is only one Jay; and he has broad appeal to most if not all audiences.

        Clearly, with his reported $250-$300 million in wealth, he would not be coming back for the money. But he seems to be a workaholic; and his ratings prove that he is on the top of his game right now. Why quit?

        Lastly, you and I are not unique in praising Jay. My guess is that his fans will be clamoring for him to come back. After all, who wants to fall asleep to the other late-night hosts? :-)

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