Kimmel vs. Leno vs. Letterman, Who Ya Got?

Categories: 1-Featured,Late Night TV Ratings

Written By

August 22nd, 2012

With yesterday's announcement that Jimmy Kimmel Live! would move to 11:35pm beginning on January 8, he'll for the first time go head to head with Letterman's Late Show and Leno's Tonight Show in exactly the same time period. Nightline will move its start time to 12:35pm, and get a 9pm Friday primetime hour as "consolation".

It's being painted as a bold move by ABC, but my guess is that, like everything, it's driven by the economics. It's very likely that Kimmel's show costs more than Nightline does, perhaps substantially more, and it doesn't make a lot of economic sense to put the more expensive show on later after the cheaper one. ABC has probably taken as long as it has to make the move because of the reported clout (or complaining, depending on who you read) that ABC News wielded to keep Nightline at 11:35.

But now that three broadcast networks (not to mention several competing cable shows that begin at 11) will all have comparably slotted talk shows at 11:35, who'll come out on top of the adults 18-49 ratings?

Here's some data for your handicapping pleasure:

2011-12 broadcast season to date (Sept-May):

  • Tonight Show 0.9 adults 18-49 rating
  • Late Show 0.8 adults 18-49 rating
  • Nightline 0.9 adults 18-49 rating
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live 0.5 adults 18-49 rating

May, 2012 sweeps period:

  • Tonight Show 0.8 adults 18-49 rating
  • Late Show 0.7 adults 18-49 rating
  • Nightline 0.9 adults 18-49 rating
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live 0.5 adults 18-49 rating

If you'd like to make things apples to apples, make your guess the ratings winner for the May, 2013 sweeps, since full season comparisons will be goofy.

Who ya' got?

  • Mike

    Here’s my breakdown of the late night talk show hosts, as someone who is part of the coveted advertising demographic:

    Leno – His monologue is predictable; you’ll chuckle occasionally at something he says, but that’s about it. Even though he’s an accomplished musician, Rickey Minor definitely is not suited to be the sidekick, and his interactions seem very forced and boring. With the exception of Headlines and Jaywalking, the sketches are rarely funny. Jay tends to interject too much during interviews rather than letting his guests speak.

    Letterman – Much like Leno, his monologue is predictable in the same way. He definitely has a better rapport going with Paul Shaffer, which leads to some funny moments. However, his sketches are only occasionally funny, and for the most part, they seem to lack much creativity. Dave is the strongest interviewer of the bunch though.

    O’Brien – He’s funniest when he makes ad lib comments, rather than his rehearsed monologue and his awkward attempts at physical humour. Andy Richter is more irritating than anything. The sketches are daring, but they tend to be hit or miss. Conan is a decent interviewer, but he can sometimes go off on strange tangents.

    Fallon – His monologue is very forced, and not suited at all to his style of comedy. The musical parodies and audience participation games tend to be the funniest of Jimmy’s sketches; he also needs to learn to keep his cool better, as he’ll often crack up laughing during them, which takes away a bit from them. There is a good rapport between Fallon and Higgins, and their improvised banter can often lead to some funny moments. Jimmy is a decent interviewer, but he often gets a bit overly excited sometimes or he cracks up laughing over a guest’s comments, which again detracts from it.

    Ferguson – Craig’s monologue isn’t the typical monologue like the other hosts offer up. For the most part, it tends to be a couple of minutes of improvised zany banter on almost anything with his skeleton robot sidekick Geoff. You’re almost always guaranteed to laugh out loud a few times. His sketches are usually funny, even when things tend to go awry. Craig’s interviews aren’t prepared (as you’ll see him shred the cue cards at the start), but he’s still able to hold his own without things getting too crazy.

    Kimmel – He has a strong wit, and he presents a decent monologue every night. His sketches are often awkward and a bit forced; they occasionally border on unfunny too. But when he interacts with the audience, it tends to lead to some good funny moments. Jimmy is a good interviewer, but his laugh can be slightly annoying.

    Overall, they each have their good, bad, and ugly qualities. It’s really up to watching whatever show you can relate to the most. All of this post is JMO.

  • Fischer

    I don’t like any of the 3. Craig is the BEST

  • tv boy

    I can’t believe I’m seeing the name “Jay Leno” together with the word “edgy.”

    If he were tottering on the edge of a windowsill he still wouldn’t be edgy.

  • Bill Gorman

    “Is the 18-49 and total viewership the only rating numbers you have?”


  • Bumfuzzled

    Kimmel will attract the highest 18 to 49, however Leno wins overall since most Nghtline viewers are older and can relate to Leno.

    Letterman will suffer the most. He might have been at his best when he was banging his intern and seemed edgy. I think he is the best interviewer but lacks true stand up ability for his sthick.

  • Gary Middleton

    Kimmel. He’s 20 years younger. It’s like asking who will sell more records to teenagers, Tony Bennett or Taylor Swift.

    Johnny lost youth demos to Arsenio, and Arsenio wasn’t even on a network.

    The real battle doesn’t start until Jimmy Fallon moves to 11:35, presumably in 2014.

  • Gary Middleton

    Based on my use of the word “records”, you know which of these shows I watch.

  • rif

    unrelated- regardless of age, many who see music as art rather than entertainment still call it “records”, vinyl or not. It’s still a recording.

  • Peter in MO

    Bill Carter alluded this week that they were going to extend Jay Leno at NBC…but no specifics as to how long…

    “The timing was clearly critical. CBS recently extended Mr. Letterman for another two years, and it is presumed NBC will extend Mr. Leno’s tenure on “Tonight.” That opens a window for Mr. Kimmel, who is 44, to find his footing against two late-night stars in their 60s.”

  • Peter in MO
  • Gary Middleton

    True, Rif. But I still play them on my phonograph, so no excuses here.

    Peter, great find. New information for many of us who thought Leno was under contract to 2014. If they’re replacing him next year, an announcement shouldn’t be more than 6 months away.

    Mr. Carter admits his take on it is a presumption. I think the wrong one.

  • bonnie blue

    Jay will still rule the roost! I don’t think Kimmel is a very likeable person, and I don’t find him funny, and he was a total a$$ during the Leno/Conan/NBC mess (that was NBC’s fault, totally!) You couldn’t pay me to watch Kimmel or Letterman …

  • Chris

    Nah…Kimmel was absolutely the best thing about Lenogate. It was brilliant…both his performance on Leno and his turning the tables during Leno’s incredibly stupid 10 at 10.

    Can you believe that after Kimmel’s amazing stunt, Leno and his writers wanted to ask Jimmy Kimmel what his favorite snack food was? And these writers were actually paid six figures?

  • GARebelman

    A rare Gary siting I see.

  • Chris

    One almost feels sorry for Leno, with the haunting sound of silence, with no vocal support for him by NBC or Comcast. Wonder if he was told something behind the scenes…

  • kscottk11

    “Even though he’s an accomplished musician, Rickey Minor definitely is not suited to be the sidekick, and his interactions seem very forced and boring.”

    “Overall, they each have their good, bad, and ugly qualities. It’s really up to watching whatever show you can relate to the most. All of this post is JMO.”

    I agree with you, Mike.

    A monologue driven show like Johnny Carson’s or Leno’s Tonight Show are helped by a good side-kick when they’re struggling. Unlike Ed McMahon and Kevin Eubanks did for Carson and Leno, Rickey Minor is just completely awkward with Leno, and he gives Leno nothing to work with.

    Getting rid of Rickey Minor and the band would be a great way for Comcast to save some money.

    Leno could put a bar stool and a tape recorder in place of Rickey Minor and it would give him more feed back.

  • Mike

    Nothing gels on Leno. The set looks like a specialist doctor’s waiting room. The band does not fit. Jay has taken a machine gun approach to his monologue and never looks at the camera or audience…his eyes rarely leave the cue cards.

    Quality has never been high on that show, but it’s sinking like the ratings.

  • Brad

    @ Gary Middleton

    Kimmel will have a higher percentage of the youth in his total viewership, however, that doesn’t mean he will have more people in the 18-49 rating. 40% of 3 million is close but still less than 36% of 3.6 million which just might be the numbers for Kimmel vs Leno.

    Totally agree that Fallon will change everything more so whenever he comes into play at 11:35pm. Its like buying the iPhone 4S only to see the iPhone 5 coming any month now.

  • M. Lance

    Kimmel is boring to me and I don’t find him funny, and like many posters said N’line was #1. I’ll watch Leno first than Letterman followed by Fallon, but Kimmel can eat boulders… I just hope all those ABC affiliates are prepared to be #3 at 11pm news EST/PST 10pm CST/MST

  • Anthony Parello (AP076)


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