Craig Ferguson and the latenight ratings race

CraigfergusonCBS needed some happy news last week, and it got some courtesy of its resident Scotsman-turned-American in late night.

“The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson notched a milestone in its three-year-plus competish in the wee hours against NBC’s long-dominant “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” by winning the week ended April 4 — Ferguson averaged 1.88 million viewers for the frame to O’Brien’s 1.77 million.

Not that latenight always has to be measured strictly a death-match, zero-sum game — both Conan and Craig are very funny fellows indeed and viewers are well-served by their diverse styles — but it is a competitive business and ratings are the yardstick by which ad sales and pop culture traction are measured.

NBC number crunchers noted that Ferguson got a big boost that week from the post-strike return of CBS’ big scripted guns, the three “CSIs,” “Without a Trace,” “Criminal Minds” plus the circulation lift from the NCAA finals coverage, while NBC was still mostly in reruns.

Looking back over the past few weeks, however, the trend is interesting. “Late Late Show” has been making it a real horse race with “Late Night” of late, in spite of the latter’s lead-in benefit from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Indeed, Ferguson is more competitive with O’Brien than his 11:35 a.m. companion, “The Late Show with David Letterman” is with “Tonight Show” — the berth O’Brien is to move up to in the fall of ’09.

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