I wrote at the end of July that it was way too early to write Conan’s epitaph, and at that point Conan’s Tonight Show hadn’t come close to losing a week in the important adults 18-49 ratings to Letterman’s Late Show. Fast forward 3 months, and a Letterman office romance/extortion scandal later, and the ratings trend is definitely not Conan’s friend.
Since the beginning of October (and the Letterman scandal), Letterman has topped Conan twice and tied him once for weekly adults 18-49 averages. The last time that Letterman’s Late Show beat (then Leno’s) Tonight Show for a week’s adults 18-49 rating was in 2005.
Conan’s Tonight Show has certainly frittered away Leno’s long time lead over Letterman’s Late Show, the big question is whether the current trend is just a post-scandal bounce for Letterman or whether it’s the shape of things to come.
Update: In response to comments that even posting this question is “absurd”:
Imagine that TVBTN was around during Leno’s “Hugh Grant” (1995) moment, and I’d written “Letterman’s Late Show Ratings Lead Is Gone, Can He Get it Back?”
Would that have been absurd? Because afterwards Leno passed Letterman and Letterman was then behind for the next 14 years.
Of course only time will tell if this is a long term shift, but it’s happened before, how can imagining it be absurd?
The trend lines above are 4 week moving averages.
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Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2009 The Nielsen Company. All Rights Reserved.