Jay Leno’s Final Week on ‘Tonight’ Was Show’s Most Watched in 20 Years

Jay Leno's Final Week on 'Tonight'

And Jimmy Fallon draws largest 'Late Night' audience since 1992

Jay Leno accomplished his goal of going out on top — in a big way.

The final week of his “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” drew its largest overall audience (averaging 8.29 million) in the more than 20 years since the week of the “Cheers” finale, according to Nielsen estimates — a frame that came during Leno’s first year as host of the latenight institution.

Leno also beat his rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel  — who combined for 5.5 million viewers — by his largest margins ever.

The final night of “Tonight” for Jay Leno, which aired Thursday following Olympics action in primetime on NBC, averaged a big 3.8 rating/16 share in adults 18-49 and 14.64 million viewers overall. This made it the show’s largest overall audience in more than 15 years (since the night of the May 1998 series finale of “Seinfeld”), and was Leno’s top demo score since an appearance by President Obama in March 2009.

For the season, “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” finished with its biggest 20-week averages in both adults 18-49 and total viewers in three years. It was up 15% in 18-49 viewers (1.22 million vs. 1.05 million) and 16% higher in total viewers (4.14 million vs. 3.57 million).

Jimmy Fallon, who has seen ever larger year-over-year gains this season, wrapped its run as host of “Late Night” with the franchise’s best weekly total-viewer average (4.20 million) since May 1992 (when it was boosted by the final week of Johnny Carson as “Tonight Show” host). He also logged his best-ever weekly 18-49 rating (1.3) and the franchise’s top score since 2005.

Through 20 weeks, “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” logged its top numbers since 2009 and its largest overall audience since Fallon became host. The show is up 27% in 18-49 viewers (864,000 vs. 680,000) and 24% in total viewers (2.13 million vs. 1.71 million).

Fallon debuts as host of the “Tonight Show” on Monday.

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  1. I I watched Leno on the tonight show. He was having a little problem in keeping the audience happy with whatever he was tlaking about. I have been watching J Fallon and do not find his show any better and less than what Leno did. Many you should get some advice from Betty White, Her show is funny.

  2. elliot gainway says:

    There was a big curiosity factor to these numbers. I know I watched and I’ve never been a fan of Leno’s Tonight and many of my friends watched who most don’t even watch any talk shows and are not fans of Leno either. Leno’s choices for taking his show somewhere else are rather limited just like Conan’s were. FOX affiliates won’t want to give up their sitcom rerun profits for Leno since they would have to split them with the network and I don’t see how a low budget Tonight Show clone would work on CNN or The History Channel. Unless Leno wants to do something different, finding a place to do a nightly monologue in front of an audience with guests and music is going to be tough unless he goes into syndication like Arsenio or into daytime like Ellen……….. Or, he can hang around on NBC (his contract doesn’t run out until Sept.) and wait for Jimmy to fail!

  3. jeff b says:

    I go to sleep now too…. No one can light a candle to Leno…… Just saw him WPB. He is the best……I thought I would gravitate to Kimmel however its hard to listen to watch someone who is squinting at me while he talks… Letterman and Conan are not funny.

    • blackcurrant says:

      You couldn’t pay me to watch that hateful Jimmy Kimmel. Jay was nothing but a gentleman to him when he was getting started, while Kimmel behaved like an absolute asshole. Surely Roger Ailes is working behind the scenes to bring Leno back, about the time NBC’s late night ratings tank and the suits have no options.

      • elliot gainway says:

        Roger Ailes has nothing to do with FOX Entertainment unless you want Leno on FOX News? Why would Leno do a show on FOX News? First of all he’s not conservative (read his interview in 2004 where he states he’s liberal and has never voted for a republican) second, how do you fit an entertainment show with an audience on a news channel? I don’t think you will see him on FOX Entertainment either because the FOX affiliates don’t want to give up all the revenue they get from sitcom reruns. They wouldn’t want to give up those profits to the network. That’s why they turned down Conan in 2010. FOX wanted Conan but the affiliates didn’t want to give up their profits to the network.

  4. frank Bove says:

    Please bring Jay Leno back in any way Hes very funny not like the other ones. I tried the other ones but gave up and just go to bed early now

    • linda says:

      I agree Frank! Jay Leno needs to have a talk show on Fox. Jay is the best in the biz and I miss not seeing him on at night.

    • linda says:

      I agree Frank! Jsy Leno needs to have a talk show on Fox. Jay Leno is the best in the biz and I miss not seeing him on at night.

      • Janet says:

        I don’t care if Jay Leno goes to FOX, CNN or elsewhere. I will watch him no matter where he goes. He is still the funniest guy around. It disturbs me that there’s so much hate towards him. I don’t get it. He worked his tail off keeping The Tonight Show #1, was unfailingly respectful and kind to everyone, did a lot of kind things for people in general, and he gets hate in return? God, people can be small. From his competitors it’s just jealously. They aren’t nearly as funny & in some cases not funny at all. It’s a wonder they have shows at all. But why is the general public mad at him? That whole Conan thing was not his fault. In fact, Conan was the one who wanted & got Jay’s job, then bombed big time, so Leno was brought back. I’m tired of hearing how Leno was the bad guy. Conan got what he deserved. Otherwise, no matter what Leno does people want to kick him. It doesn’t make sense. Didn’t our parents tell us to be nice, kind, not to say or do bad things, to work hard? Jay is doing all of this. We should be applauding him, not bashing him. I think that he makes it look so easy (because he does work so hard at it), that people don’t realize just how good he is. I would love to see any of his detractors try to do just one night of stand up or run a show for a day, let alone 22 years. So much easier to criticize than to give credit where it’s due. Please, put your knives away (those of you who do nothing but take stabs at him), and realize he’s a good person & a great professional. Come back, Jay! I already miss you!

      • elliot gainway says:

        You do know that FOX Entertainment and FOX news are two separate entities, right?

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