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Leno's return to late night draws 6.6-million viewers and lands him in first place

March 2, 2010 | 11:48 am

LENOVONN

Jay Leno returned as host of NBC's "Tonight Show" with jokes about Tiger Woods and Dick Cheney that made it seem like he never left.

There are millions of ways to spin Leno's numbers. Almost three weeks of heavy Olympics promotion, not to mention all the attention around NBC's late-night soap opera, meant there would be a lot of curiosity and sampling. Having Olympic star Lindsey Vonn as a guest probably didn't hurt either. 

At the same time, it's not like people don't know what they're getting when they tune into Leno's shows.

In other words, let's just look at the numbers and not go too far down the road of what does this all mean just yet.

Leno averaged 6.6-million viewers on Monday night, beating CBS' David Letterman, who averaged 3.8 million, and ABC's "Nightline," which drew 4.1-million viewers, per Nielsen. Among adults ages 18 to 49, Leno was first with a 1.6 rating, followed by "Nightline" with a 1.3 and Letterman's 1.1 rating. Each rating point equals 1.3-million viewers in that demographic. For what it's worth, Letterman was up in adults 18 to 49 Monday night.

Having digested those numbers, now we can go a little ways down the road. Leno's 6.6-million viewers were fewer than Conan O'Brien averaged in his premiere and in his final show. However, in between Conan's first and last shows, he averaged 2.7-million viewers and a 1.1 among adults 18 to 49. In other words, Leno can take a big hit in the ratings later this week and still beat O'Brien's average.

For the really curious, Leno's last telecast in May, when he ended his first run as "Tonight Show" host, averaged 11.9 million, and his average last season was 5.14 million and a 1.4 rating in the 18-49 category.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Lindsey Vonn with Jay Leno. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / Associated Press

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