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Jimmy Fallon Flying High One Month From ‘Tonight Show’ Bow

His 'Late Night' on NBC surging in the ratings vs. last year; clip show, 'SNL' gig also fared well

As Jimmy Fallon prepares to take over as host of the “Tonight Show” one month from today, NBC has to be pleased with his growing popularity.

According to Nielsen estimates for the first 16 weeks of the TV season, Fallon’s weeknight program “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” is averaging its biggest audience (1.95 million) since its 2009 launch — up 14% from last year. And among adults 18-49, the show is up 17% (792,000 vs. 677,000) for its best average in three years.

These gains come as NBC continues to rule latenight overall, with the Jay Leno-hosted “Tonight Show” also up vs. last year, but by smaller margins. Through 16 weeks, its averages of 3.83 million total viewers and 1.13 million adults 18-49 are a roughly 8% improvement over the previous season. Leno’s final “Tonight Show” is set for Feb. 6.

In a bid to boost Fallon’s profile, NBC has placed him in some recent highly visible programming on the net — and audiences have responded.

His turn as host on the Dec. 21 edition of “Saturday Night Live” averaged 13.12 million viewers in Nielsen’s Live+7 estimates — the show’s largest audience by this measure, excluding a night when it had the NFL as a lead-in, since May 2010.

And on Jan. 5, the two-hour “Best of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Primetime Special” delivered 5.7 million same-night viewers, the net’s best Sunday results (excluding football and the Golden Globes) in a year. The special’s 2.0 rating in adults 18-49 helped NBC win the timeslot in the demo over original drama programming on ABC and CBS.

That special also helped Fallon’s performance the following week. His Jan. 6-10 average in total viewers (2.01 million) was up 27% year-over-year for his best frame (excluding a week when it had a boost from an NFL overrun) since December 2012. He also grew 25% in adults 18-49 (777,000 vs. 621,000), nearly catching CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” (788,000), which benefits from starting an hour earlier.

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