I enjoy seeing the weekly ratings for the Tonight Show, The Late Show and Nightline since Conan O’Brien took over the Tonight Show, before the switch I never much cared about them because they were boringly repetitive. Same with our readers, judging by the number of page views those posts have received.

Grasping for something to write about in the dog days of summer, the TV media has set upon the late night battle with a vengeance. I’d decided to let it all go until sometime this fall to see how things settled out, but the wacky idea that NBC would move local news to 10pm and put Jay Leno on at 10:30pm (originated from an ex-NBC employee via the Washington Post) made me decide write something now about all the current silliness.

It’s Way Too Early To Draw Any Conclusions About Conan’s Tonight Show!

  • It’s summer – low broadcast viewership everywhere. Until people are watching broadcast again in September, predicting the future on summer numbers is silly.
  • Michael Jackson’s death – gave Nightline a big boost, as well as plenty of cable and syndicated late night options. That won’t last forever (although it seems like it might).
  • Jay Leno moving to 10pm – is going to scramble everything on broadcast after 10pm, and while many think Jay@10 is a negative for Conan, I’m adopting a wait and see attitude. Regardless, it’s a huge change with unknown effects.

These things are not going to happen:

NBC is not going to move Leno back to 11:35 this season. No chance. Whatever the downside of keeping Leno at 10 and Conan at 11:35, a move this season would be far worse. Next season anything can happen.

NBC is not going to give the 10-10:30 period to local affiliates and put Jay @10:30. First of all, it would be a huge logistical change for the local affiliates.  Second, that kind of move is very difficult to reverse. They can take Jay out of 10pm in future seasons and put dramas back in, but not if they’ve already given it back to the local affiliates.

Could Conan ultimately prove to be a failure on the Tonight Show? Sure. I’m not predicting anything at this point. I’ll wait to do that sometime this fall when the tea leaves are a lot clearer.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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