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David Poland

By David Poland

Wrapping Up Coco vs The Devil Leno

One of the scams that has been used to bolster Conan O’Brien’s disastrous run on The Tonight Show and to push the idea that he can, in any way, beat Leno is that the 18-49 has become the first, and often the only, rating reported in the media. It’s a lot like counting movie tickets sold instead of grosses.

Anyway… Dec 13-17

11:30 (35)p – 12:30 (35)a
Leno – 3.9 million viewers
Letterman = 3.6 million
Nightline/Kimmel – 3.9m/1.7m
Adult Swim – 1.9 million

11p – 12a
Daily Show/Colbert – 1.6m/1.2m
Conan – 1.3 million viewers

The only show Conan beats is Colbert.

All three cable shows have double dips – two showings – nightly, which are combined to reach these numbers.

And for those who worry only about the 18-49 demo, Leno has been soundly beating O’Brien and Letterman there as well in the last month-plus.

Some are comparing demos between Conan’s Tonight and Leno’s Tonight this year. But it’s from on particular week in December… and if you look up the numbers from last year, you’ll find “Conan generated his highest adult 18-49 rating in nine weeks (since the week of September 28-October 2).” The reason? Letterman was in repeats.

Bottom line, before the controversy bump, even on this, his strongest of weeks, Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien had about 2.5 million viewers. Leno, for all the beating he’s taken, is now at almost a 50% improvement on that, beating all challengers, and doing it in every demographic.

I’m not asking anyone to love Leno or to root against Conan. I’m a Letterman guy and have loyally been so since the NBC days. Just sayin’…

Conan will do well for TBS. But Leno is the late night king and there’s just no getting around it. It may not be for the best reasons… but it just is. Conan has 1/3rd his audience with a repeat or an early show included in all markets.

Scoreboard. Game over.

(Edited… scheduling error regarding Colbert.)

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22 Responses to “Wrapping Up Coco vs The Devil Leno”

  1. Carmichael says:

    I don’t disagree with your overall point, but I think your analogy in your first paragraph is flawed.

    I believe you are saying that grosses (not tickets sold) is the relevant indicator of success, because that’s where the financial value comes from. Similarly, for most television advertisers, viewers in the 18-49 demographic are the target, so programs with the most viewers in that demographic will be more valuable and draw higher CPMs than programs with fewer viewers in that demographic.

    Obviously, my description is a bit simplistic (some advertisers do target the 50+ demo, particularly those that buy time on local news preceding Leno; cable nets do care about total viewers as that number can be relevant for negotiations with carriers; etc.), but I think my point, that the 18-49 demo is relevant in determining monetary value and not just as a debating tool, stands.

    All that said, I think that NBC obviously made the correct decision in keeping Leno (pay and play is pay and play, and Leno wouldn’t go cheaply w/that kind of leverage, so even if Conan may have, eventually, outdrawn Leno, he would have had to do so by a large margin for it to be worth it to NBC).

  2. Eds says:

    Conan 11-12, goes up against Colbert 11:30-12.

  3. IOv3 says:

    David, you are still wrong. Why? Leno sucks, David is funnier, and Conan is funnier than ever. Conan has a tremendous show. It’s absolutely tremendous but you like taking the side of the old farts, so congratulations on one again siding with that age group.

  4. NJS says:

    At first I was disappointed in the Conan show. I now understand why. Although Ted Turner is a millionaire, he hasn’t given Conan quite the budget he had on NBC. In addition, the skits and characters (like the “Clutch Cargo” skit where Conan interviewed photos of famous people with lips superimposed on the screen speaking live), Triumph, Masturbating Bear, even Quackers the Sh*t Eating duck, etc. are all owned by NBC, so Conan is restricted from using them. It took years of work for Conan and his writers to develop these! Maybe it was a bad business move on Conan’s part to take the money over the the rights of his characters and sketches but what do I know? Conan seems to have a knack to know what to do. After all, he did it before. Despite that, I’m going to stick with Conan. His show is evolving, much like it did back in 1993. I say, let’s give him some time!

  5. David Poland says:

    Thanks, Eds… not sure how I got wrapped around that…

  6. Diana S. says:

    I think you’re incorrect when you mention that both airings of cable shows are counted toward rating numbers.

    If you are a Letterman fan, you must be furious. That man is phoning in since January, and taking vacations half of the time. That explains your anger toward Conan.

  7. Joe Leydon says:

    NJS: Ted Turner has nothing to do with TBS anymore. Hasn’t for years.

  8. cadavra says:

    Everyone says Letterman’s phoning it in. Wrong. His legacy now secure, he has relaxed into his gig and now seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. Because people expect him to be cranky and aggressive and he’s not, this gets interpreted as “not caring.” Watch him conduct serious interviews with politicians or authors and you can see the difference. It’s possible that this could be a reaction to what Stewart’s doing, but whatever the reason, it’s working splendidly, at least for me. And with Ferguson right behind him, CBS is now the best place to be for after-midnight viewers.

  9. yancyskancy says:

    All I know is I’m really liking Conan’s show. His Tonight Show stint coincided with a downturn in my late night viewing, so I only got to catch it once or twice. But I’ve seen most of the new shows, and it seems like a happy fit, despite budget constraints.

  10. LexG says:

    Leno always has the hottest squack.

    YEP YEP.

  11. IOv3 says:


    Lex, but you have to look at plastic surgery big chin next to them. Seriously, that dude, is just broken as a person and that’s why even defending him as David does, seems so fucking whack ass to me.

  12. chris says:

    I don’t think he’s defending Leno, he’s just pointing out that Leno gets the best ratings of all the late night talk shows. It sucks that mediocrity is so celebrated in this country, but that is also nothing new. Conan is the weirdest and most daring with his platform, hence he struggles the most to get viewers. Not a surprise. Just like when Little Fockers makes the most dough over a weekend, financial success is absolutely not a benchmark for quality (actually, one of the things that made Conan my favorite was when he spent a full week chastising America for making Kangaroo Jack the number one movie in the country when it came out in theaters).

  13. GradyTripp says:

    Praising Leno’s rating is similar to giving love to “Alvin & The Chipmunks.”

    Late night now has something for everyone. It just turns out that if you have an intellectual aspect to your sense of humor, you probably aren’t watching the most popular show.

  14. IOv3 says:

    Conan is doing what he wants to do on TBS and he’s still funnier than Leno, who they now want to replace with freaking Fallon. So, again, this is David going all Farci on us because his TAKE HAS TO BE RIGHT… OR ELSE!

  15. David Poland says:

    Diana… according to the web site that published the numbers from Nielsen, both airings are counted so long as they are within 24 hours of the first airing. The same is true when you see ratings for HBO, which is why they platform the new episodes on so many of their channels in the same 24 hour period.

    And I’m not angry at Conan, though I do think the attacks he allowed his team to make on Leno and wildly overstated claims of victimization were grotesque.

    At the moment, my DVR tapes all three shows… and I’m not thrilled by any of them lately, aside from the DeNiro/Hoffman/Letterman beauty.

    Someone knowledgeable, in a blog comment, pointed out a year or two ago that the shows are going longer on comedy and shorter on interview and the truth is, I don’t care about the comedy on any of the three shows enough to spend the time. And on The Daily Show, I actually prefer the first two comedy segments to the interview. Though Stewart is a good interviewer, he is easily distracted and the form is very short.

    What I have learned watching – and I am in the business of doing over 150 half-hours every year with no pre-interview and no blue cards – is that the art of listening is nearly dead, even with these veterans. Leno is an enthusiast. Conan is trying to find the joke and to make it about him of he needs to. And Letterman is best when he is uncomfortable and that is what is fun to watch, whether he is uncomfortable because it’s a terrible interview or some actress is under his skin. And of the three, he’s really the one who still has the cast of characters who come in and interview themselves, really, though I miss the great old days of Fran Lebowitz and Harvey Pekar and yeah, Leno (What’s my BEEF?!?!”). I am thrilled to see Amy Sedaris on the show, but for whatever reason, David seems to have stopped playing along with her in the last appearance.

    I watched Aaron Eckhart on Leno and Conan. He really didn’t talk about the movie much. There isn’t room for a heavy drama on a comedy show. And the clip on Conan was a comic relief moment with pot. Oy. Eckhart was charming on both shows, seemed to have a better time on Conan, but neither one got a millimeter past his surface… and he’s a smart, open, interesting guy.

    My point, on this entry and on the Inception-rage entry and many others is… look at the facts and then argue opinion all you like. I hate the spin. You want to argue, as IO does, that Leno sucks? Excellent. I have zero issue with that, though IO turns it into some age issue, which is kinda stupid. If Conan was doing Adult Swim numbers, he’d be a grand slam for TBS… and he’s not.

    But don’t try to slide in some statistical proof that Leno sucks by spinning numbers and finding the one stat that works in your favor. That’s the Fox News game… and yes, sometimes MSNBC… and so many other places. Use the minor point as the wedge to distract from the larger point, all the while claiming that the minor point IS the larger point. It’s bullshit. It’s horrible journalism. And it’s a fool’s argument.

    Have the balls, as IO often does, to just believe in your position and state your opinion. If you really believe it, you don’t have to fake facts. And you certainly don’t have to make it personal and claim that the offer of facts is the result of a personal bias. More bullshit. If you are going to offer facts, offer a full and fair picture.

  16. Terry F says:

    Anyone besides me find the Letterman show unbearable because of the audience bypassing laughter and going straight to applause anytime anything remotely humorous is said? I understand audiences are rehearsed to over respond but….really?

    I like Letterman’s comic sensibility but cannot stand the barrage of applause. Ugh…. You’d think Letterman would be embarrassed by it and tell the producers to not be so obnoxious about leaning on the ‘Applesauce’ button so much.

    Anyway, Conan has relaxed into the TBS position nicely. He has been very funny lately. Love the crowd work during the monologue. Jimmy Pardo, Conan’s warm up, must be rubbing off on him.

  17. christian says:

    Imagine a time when you had Giants like this being interviewed by people who listened:

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    Actually, Christian, there was a time when Johnny Carson would routinely have folks like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote drop by his show — not to sell anything they were doing, mind you, but just to chat. I’m reminded of this every few years or so when somebody makes a documentary about a notable of the ’60s, and there’s archical footage from The Tonight Show. Some people think I’m making it up, or I’ve goine daft, when I tell them that Jim Garrison was on with Carson to talk about his JFK assassination investigation back in the ’60s. But he was.

  19. christian says:

    Yes, Carson used to have some good authors but nobody could beat Cavett for guests, including a whole show with Brando.

  20. sanj says:

    i’m a fan of Colbert’s interviews – even with guests i don’t care about he makes it real funny and interesting

    i want more colbertness in dp/30 interviews …

  21. christian says:

    Watching Leno pretend Sarah Palin is anything but a hateful divisive hypocrite was embarrassing. He’s the epitome of hack. And I recall with fondness his appearances on Letterman’s first seasons.

  22. Jake says:

    How are you comparing Conan against Letterman, Leno, Fallon or anyone on network TV? The cable industry is down all over the country because people are canceling in the recession-Comcast alone lost 1/4th of their customers according to the WSJ. Of course the ratings for network television figures are always going to be higher. TBS backed Conan because they had nothing, and were becoming a syndication/Tyler Perry network. The whole situation was blown out of proportion in the first place, but it seems like a pretty big insult to compare the ratings of an NBC show (which is free) to a TBS show. Isn’t that akin to comparing the grosses of a studio movie to a dependent?

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