Jimmy Fallon’s Debut as ‘Tonight Show’ Host Draws 11.3 Million Viewers

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

UPDATE: The debut of NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” averaged a 3.8 rating in adults 18-49 and 11.31 million viewers overall in Nielsen’s fast-national estimates released Tuesday by Nielsen. This is the second biggest audience for “Tonight” since May 2009, behind only Leno’s final episodes of “Tonight” (14.64 million on Feb. 6, and the 11.90 million who watched in May 2009 as the show transitioned to Conan O’Brien).

Compared to the “Tonight” season average on Mondays, Fallon’s debut was up 182% in total viewers (11.31 million vs. 4.01 million).
A new era in latenight television commenced on Monday, with NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” easily keeping the venerable program on top of the ratings heap.

Taking advantage of NBC’s dominance in primetime courtesy of its coverage of the Winter Olympics — and starting 30 minutes later than usual because of it — Fallon’s debut as host averaged a 7.1 overnight household rating/20 share, according to Nielsen. This put it about 80% higher than the combined overnight Monday rating for the programs hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC and David Letterman on CBS.

Coincidentally, the 7.1 is the same overnight score that NBC saw for its post-Jay Leno “Tonight Show” host the first time, as Conan O’Brien premiered to that rating in June 2009.

While no one expected Fallon to approach the huge 9.2/22 that Jay Leno logged with his recent “Tonight” swansong (at the more advantageous start time of 11:35 p.m.), Monday’s premiere-night rating is well above the previous high for Fallon as host of “Late Night” (4.8/13) and is slightly more than double what Leno averaged in his penultimate week of Jan. 27-31 (3.5/9). The season-to-date average in the metered-market overnight rating for “Tonight” is 2.9.

That 4.8 “Late Night” overnight rating for Fallon translated to about 6.6 million viewers in the nationals, so something in the vicinity of 10 million viewers is likely for his “Tonight Show” premiere. Preliminary total-viewer estimates are expected to be issued later today by Nielsen.

In the 25 markets with Local People Meters, the premiere of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” averaged a 3.4/17 in adults 18-49 — the highest ever for a Fallon-hosted latenight program and 62% bigger than the 2.1/10 for the Friday, Feb. 7 finale of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

Monday’s premiere, featuring Will Smith, U2 and celebrity cameos including Stephen Colbert, Robert De Niro and Tina Fey, marked the return of “The Tonight Show” to New York City, where it originated in 1954.

“Tonight” has been the No. 1-rated latenight program for most of the time it’s been on the air for NBC, from Jack Paar and Johnny Carson through the two stints of Leno. But with the passing of the baton from Leno to Fallon, both ABC (with Kimmel) and CBS (with Letterman) see an opportunity to gain competitive ground.

In a bid to provide as much support as possible for their latenight programs, ABC and CBS aired original dramas in the 10 o’clock hour on Monday (unusual for both to do so during the Olympics), but they were overwhelmed by the Sochi Games. The Olympics on NBC averaged a 14.6 overnight household rating/22 share in primetime on Monday — besting the combined tallies for ABC, CBS and Fox (12.7/19) and the highest since the opening Sunday (Feb. 9).

NBC has now effectively used its primetime ratings advantage during the Olympics to both send off Jay Leno and usher in Fallon as host of “The Tonight Show.”

The final night of “Tonight” for Leno, which aired Feb. 6, averaged a big 3.8 rating/16 share in adults 18-49 and 14.64 million viewers overall in Nielsen nationals. 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.

Fallon wrapped its run as host of “Late Night” one day later with a 2.1/10 in 18-49 and 6.6 million viewers overall in the nationals — the largest audience for the franchise since the June 1993 finale of “Late Night With David Letterman.” In the demo, it was Fallon’s second-best telecast ever, behind only a 2.5 rating for a special post-Super Bowl telecast in 2012, and the best for a regularly scheduled installment of “Late Night” since May 2004 (2.7), on the night of the “Friends” finale.

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  1. timeless says:

    Shame on Jimmy Fallon! His having that dirt bag Joan Rivers on his show seems to me to be a slap in the face to not only Jay Leno but to Johnny Carson! Jay acted in support of Johnny when he continued the ban. Joan Rivers is a potty mouth nobody! I will NOT watch Fallon, I will honor Mr. Carson and Mr. Leno by upholding the warranted ban. Fallon was/is just looking for shock value now I guess. The show seemed to be all about him anyway. Hopefully Potty Mouth Rivers will try to ambush Fallon like she did Johnny Carson! Would be poetic justice. Leno must be having a good chuckle at Joan’s meltdown! What a douche she is. Who watches her and Melissa anyway? Nobody I know ……

  2. Bob Frackner says:

    Fallon is hilarously unfunny. It makes me laugh that NBC put him on late night. They could do better by putting Martha Stewart or Paula Deen instead.

  3. TV101 says:

    A smooth transition. Only thing I might do, if even possible, is use WIDER lenses. Things are bigger now, most have HD sets, and the Tonight Show set… felt “New York small.” Was actually surprised they didn’t have a bit more audience, I think they need it. I know that stage was re-done etc. but felt it would look larger on television — it didn’t. It looked “cramped” and not expansive the way a brand like The Tonight Show would be. His hosting – is going to be great. He is great. Why NBC can’t slip in some of their new shows SOMEHOW during this ratings grab hmmm have no idea how they’d do it but people fast forward through promos.

    • Carl White says:

      Yea, I agree, I liked the background but the set in general looked cheap and cramped. The wide shots from above when Will Smith was on the couch just looked sad but I am sure they will figure out what works and what does not pretty quickly.
      Its a heck of a roll of the dice, Fallon is obviously incredibly talented and incredibly likeable but I could never get in to his show. I loved seeing the clips of him doing bits like singing as Neil Young or rapping with Timberlake but at that time of night I want slow and steady.
      His show was just too all over the place and often felt like a college talent show with all the audience involvement bits. I hated the Thank You notes, just stupid silly.
      Jay was perfect, a few jokes to sum up current events, jaywalking or headlines, hopefully a good interview and then I fall asleep unless I really want to see the musical artist.
      But it is the modern world and with so many people DVRing and Huluing, I guess that is not as big a worry and they obviously are trying to get the younger demo.
      Should be interesting to see how it shakes out in the long run. Letterman will probably get most of my business now as I just never liked Conan or Kimmel.

  4. Yirmin says:

    New factor will give him a chance… but if he doesn’t get a good rhythm going so it will faulter very quickly. Sadly seeing a KarTrashian on there was enough for me to turn channels.

  5. An ERA? You mean we’re going to be stuck with THIS ONE for 20 years too?

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