Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ Audience Biggest Since Johnny Carson’s Exit

NBC's final ratings for host's first-week larger than reported

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon TV Review on NBC

There was a lot of curiosity in the premiere week of Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show,” and that includes nearly 2 million viewers who caught up within a few days via DVR playback. As a result, the venerable NBC program delivered its largest audience — 10.42 million — since the final week of Johnny Carson as host in 1992.

In Nielsen’s  preliminary “live plus three day” results released Thursday, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” padded its earlier-reported same-night numbers for the week of Feb. 17-21 — growing 29% from a 2.8 “live plus same-day” rating in adults 18-49 to a 3.6 with three days of time-shifted viewing included. And in total viewers, it grew 23% (from 8.493 million to 10.418 million).

The last time “The Tonight Show” drew more viewers for a week came well before the era of DVR time-shifting, as the final week of Johnny Carson’s run in May 1992 averaged a whopping 19.453 million viewers. In adults 18-49, the 3.6 rating is the highest for “Tonight” since the week of the “Seinfeld” finale in May 1998 (3.7 rating).

NBC also was able to achieve its goal of bringing younger viewers to “Tonight,” as the program’s median age during Fallon’s first week (52.6 years) was the youngest for any week this season for “Tonight,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” or CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Prior to Fallon’s premiere, the median age for “The Tonight Show” this season was 58.1. For the season, Kimmel’s median age is 54.2, while Letterman’s is 58.7.