Jay Leno’s Final ‘Tonight Show’ Hits 15-Year Ratings High

Final Tonight Show

Jay Leno’s last episode as host of “The Tonight Show” (we think) has scored the program’s most-watched episode in more than 15 years.

In updated estimates for Thursday night, Nielsen said “Tonight” drew a big 14.64 million viewers overall, the fourth biggest ever for the show. The only shows to rate higher were May 20, 1993 (“Cheers” finale, 22.4 million), May 25, 1992 (Leno’s debut, 16.1 million), May 14, 1998 (“Seinfeld” finale, 15.0 million) and Feb. 6, 2014 (Leno’s final telecast, 14.6 million).

The final “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was up 283%, nearly tripling the show’s season average in total viewers (3.82 million heading into this week). And in adults 18-49, “Tonight” did a 3.8 rating — more than four times the show’s average this season (0.9) and its highest since Conan O’Brien’s final night as host in January 2010.

Leno got a nice assist on Thursday night from NBC’s special early coverage of the Winter Olympics in advance of Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. The Peacock averaged a 6.0 rating in adults 18-49 and 20 million viewers overall in primetime, the largest aud for any network on the night since the opening game of the NFL season last September.

“Tonight Show” had certainly been picking up ratings steam heading into this week, as it averaged a nightly audience of 4.99 million viewers for the Jan. 27-31 frame — up about 30% from the comparable week a year ago — and 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” was 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.

“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” followed Leno on Thursday with 6.01 million viewers, its largest since a special post-Super Bowl Sunday episode in February 2012.

Leno’s final episode did not start off with a sentimental vibe, our Brian Lowry wrote in his review, but went in that direction as the night went on.

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  1. Ron R says:

    I don’t think its ranked fourth CBS’ “MASH,” which averaged almost 106 million viewers. The superbowl was at 108Million. 1 M*A*S*H Goodbye, Farewell and Amen 105.9 60.2% 77% 28 Feb 1983 CBS
    2 Cheers One for the Road 84.4a[109] 45.5% 64%[110] 20 May 1993 NBC
    3 Seinfeld The Finale 76.3[109] 41.3% 58% 14 May 1998 NBC
    4 Friends The Last One 52.46[109][111] 29.8% 43% 6 May 2004 NBC
    5 Magnum, P.I. Resolutions 50.7 N/A N/A 8 May 1988 CBS
    6 The Tonight Show
    Starring Johnny Carson N/A 50.0[109] N/A N/A 22 May 1992 NBC
    7 The Cosby Show And So We Commence 44.4[109] 28.0% 45% 30 April 1992 NBC
    8 All in the Family Too Good Edith 40.2[109][112] 26.6% 43% 8 April 1979 CBS
    9 Family Ties Alex Doesn’t Live Here Anymore 36.3 20.8% 35% 14 May 1989 NBC
    10 Home Improvement The Long and Winding Road 35.5[113] 21.6%[114] 43%[113] 25 May 1999 ABC
    11 Frasier Goodnight, Seattle 33.7[111] 16.3% 25% 13 May 2004 NBC
    12 Dallas Conundrum 33.3 22.0% 38% 3 May 1991 CBS
    13 Everybody Loves Raymond The Finale 32.9[111] 20.2% 29% 16 May 2005 CBS
    14 Star Trek: The Next Generation All Good Things… 31.0[115] 17.4% 24% 23 May 1994 Syndication
    This is just a lazy reporter that doesn’t want to have to do any research. What a lazy inaccurate paper.

  2. Just Confused says:

    Just no way I believe this is it for JAY.
    He may gave taken it on the chin but NBC will get the RATINGS NOSEBLEED! JAY is far from finished. Poor JIMMY FALLON expectations and pressure on him are going to be enormous…..and he comes across as a worrier.

    BEST 2ALL

  3. juju says:

    Would love to see Leno host the Oscars in the near future. Might actually watch beyond the first 20 minutes.

  4. Peter says:

    Billy Crystal is as funny as a fire in an orphanage.

  5. Diane B says:

    Now that Jay is out of work, why not have him host the Academy Awards, he would be great and add some humor to that show.

  6. Nick Turner says:

    Jay did a great job and he will surely be missed and no doubt I am showing my age. But Johnny Carson’s last show seemed somehow of much greater generational, even historic signifigance in terms of memorable milestones.

  7. Garth Brooks = ratings!

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