CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” kept plenty of viewers up past their bedtime Monday, grabbing numbers comparable to the premiere of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” back in May 1992.
The first night of Letterman’s heavily promoted CBS talkshow posted a wide-eyed 10.9 rating, 32 share in expedited Nielsen national ratings ordered by CBS, translating to about 23 million viewers. Leno started the post-Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” era with an 11.8/36 and an audience of nearly 25 million.
Letterman’s debut delivered a 13.4/34 in the 29 Nielsen overnight markets, topping the combined score of “Nightline” (6.3/15) and “Tonight” (5.6/14) by that standard.
It’s notable that the ABC and NBC shows both finished near their regular performance levels (“Tonight” had a 4.1/11 nationally), reflecting enhanced tune-in to check out the new Letterman series. National figures weren’t available for “Nightline.”
“Late Show’s” 19% drop off its overnight rating also underscores both delays in clearances (the show was carried “live” directly out of local news in 74% of the U.S., higher than the 68% CBS had projected) and Letterman’s urban skew. “Tonight,” which airs “live”in 99% of the U.S., fell about 14% nationally off Leno’s debut as permanent “Tonight” host last year, which did a 13.9/39 in the metered markets. The “Late Show” numbers not surprisingly included whopping appeal among key demographics, with an 8.8 rating among men 18-49 and 7.8 among women in that bracket, compared to a 2.2 and 2.8, respectively, for “Tonight.”
CBS has guaranteed advertisers an average 4.1 household rating for “Late Show ,” but acknowledged it’s too soon to tell whether it will achieve that target over the long haul. CBS/Broadcast Group senior VP, planning & research David Poltrack did say he expects ratings to remain at higher-than-usual levels through the week and predicted “Late Show” will benefit next week from the intro of “The Chevy Chase Show,” picking up viewers who stay up to sample Fox Broadcasting Co.’s latenight entry.
Monday’s results represented all-time bests for both CBS (with a regular latenight series) and Letterman, whose previous ratings high in 11 seasons on NBC was a 9.1/34 on May 22, 1992, following the final Carson-hosted episode of “The Tonight Show” (27.9/63).