Conan O’Brien off to a strong start

'Tonight Show' tops latenight, primetime ratings

Conan O’Brien got off to a running start at the helm of “The Tonight Show.”

Three nights after Jay Leno averaged a big 8.8 household rating/20 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights, “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” bowed Monday to a 7.1 rating/17 share.

The rating represents an 82% improvement over the second-quarter average of “The Tonight Show” (3.9) and is 173% higher than O’Brien’s farewell appearance on “Late Night” in February (2.6).

“Obviously, everyone has all eyes on these transitions,” said NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chair Ben Silverman. “But it’s about long-term strategy. The last (host change) we made with ‘Tonight Show’ lasted 17 years. It’s not necessarily about any one night as it is about the next few years.”

O’Brien’s bow marked the best Monday delivery for “The Tonight Show” since a January 2005 telecast featuring a special tribute to Johnny Carson. And it ranks as the seventh-highest Monday for the program since Leno took over the latenighter in 1992.

O’Brien moves up to the “Tonight” slot after a dominant run as host of “Late Night” from September 1993 through February 2009. In adults 18-49, it beat its “Late Late Show” competish on CBS for 57 consecutive quarters.

The generally positive reviews for O’Brien’s debut bode well for his ability to manage the transition to an earlier hour and a little less edge to his humor. Monday’s show opened with a taped bit showing off O’Brien’s famously long legs as he sprinted cross-country after forgetting to move to L.A. in time for his “Tonight Show” debut. The clip spread quickly on the Web on Tuesday.”His comedy is so strong, and it’s great to see what he can do with the additional resources,” Silverman said. “His background as a sketch writer and ‘Simpsons’ writer is really playing out in these taped pieces.”

NBC is using firstrun fare at 10 p.m. this week to bolster its primetime hour leading into the 11 p.m. news, which in turn leads into “The Tonight Show” at 11:35.

On Monday, the season finale of “Medium” — a show headed for CBS in the fall — averaged a prelim 2.3/6 in 18-49 and 7.4 million viewers overall.

And earlier in primetime, the Peacock got off to a pretty good start with reality series “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” (prelim 2.6/8 in 18-49, 6.4 million viewers overall), which tied with repeat CBS comedies as the demo leader from 8 to 10.

ABC’s own nonscripted entries, “The Bachelorette” (prelim 2.2/6 in 18-49, 6.3 million) and “Here Come the Newlyweds” (prelim 2.1/6, 5.0 million), were competitive and grew a bit week to week.