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Jay Leno pulls in almost 18 million viewers in primetime debut


Jay Leno opened big in prime time, drawing 17.7 million viewers and easily winning every demographic race. Of course, with Jerry Seinfeld and Kanye West as guests, millions of dollars spent on hype and light competition, it would've been hard for "The Jay Leno Show" not to score a big audience on his first night at 10.

Curiosity no doubt played a huge factor, as evidenced by the show's first half-hour, which drew just over 18 million viewers -- in the second half-hour, nearly a million viewers jumped ship. Leno also had a strong “America’s Got Talent” lead-in that averaged almost 15 million viewers. On the downside, 60% of the audience for Leno was over the age of 50, which is not what advertisers covet.

One night's numbers does not a story make and while the early results will have NBC brass smiling and spinning (after all, Leno's numbers more than doubled what NBC averaged in the 10-11 p.m. hour last season), keep in mind that other than football on ESPN, the rest of the industry pretty much gave Leno a pass on Day 1. 

The real challenge will be in the days and weeks ahead when he is squaring off against original programming and the novelty of a prime-time talk/variety show starts to fade. Once the viewers vote, it will be up to the bean counters at NBC to determine whether the bet pays off financially.

From a critical standpoint, little has changed for Leno from his days at 11:30 p.m. The critics who weren't fans of his then, obviously didn't suddenly become fans just because he is on 90 minutes earlier. At the same time, viewers who like Leno don't really care that he isn't the critics' choice. The good news for NBC is that there are more viewers around at 10 p.m. than there are at 11:30 p.m.

Leno's strong start no doubt also gave Conan O'Brien a late-night boost, although more detailed ratings information on late night won't be available until later today.

In Los Angeles, Leno delivered a 10.2 rating and 18 share on KNBC, crushing the competition and providing a huge lead-in for the station's 11 p.m. newscast, which scored a 7.1 rating and 16 share. That easily beat KABC, which usually dominates late news.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (39)

I loved da show headlines were funny and Kanye West almots crying was priceless!!! Im tired of JayZ dont get me wrong he is a great rapper but he keeps saying he is retired then he comes back and does it all over again! I loved da show and Jay did a great job on night 1.... Keep up the good work

I know this is the new Leno but it wasn't quite that good. Seemed stilted at times. Too scripted or too unscripted. It was something I can't place but it lacked funny.

Was this really the venue for a mea culpa by KW? I don't look for anything but entertainment from my boob tube and it fell short of that. I'm hoping his other shows get better. I have faith that if Jay lets go they can be great.

Well, we watched it, but if the level of bathroom humor and innuendo we saw last night is going to be the "norm" for the leno show, I doubt we'll be regular viewers. One of the things we loved about the Tonight Show with Jay Leno -- totally missing with Conan O'Brien at the helm -- was the fact that Jay always kept it classy. He made adult jokes, but he was never offensive or vulgar. The car wash comedian and several of Jay's jokes were just tacky. As for Kanye West, and the other hip-hop performers, I could care less. I had NO clue what that guy was clumsily apologizing for, or who he was, and I cared even less.

The show was nothing more than the Tonight Show on before the news rather than after with a new set. Big deal. Thank God I have cable.

I have been a fan of the tonite show since Jack Paar. I have always liked the objectivity expressed by all hosts until the last year. I enjoyed the show last night until Leno morphed into Barbara Walters/Diane Sawyer during the interview with Kanye West. Leno must have seen how shallow this man was and yet encouraged the woe is me attitude. Analyze what happened. He did not apologize, he blamed his mothers death, his schedule, etc, etc. that is not an apology that wass a cathartic experience encouraged by the host.

The Jay Leno Show should never have become a reality. Conan earned the spot where he is. Let him have it.

If someone has to be blamed, it clearly is NBC as a network. Somebody needs to be an adult here. Their ratings are not where they want, so they offer Jay a 9:00p slot. Can't blame Jay for taking it, but it should never have been offered.

Now you have TWO shows with basically the same format. As a network, they have put two great talents (their own employees) in competition with each other. They should instead focus energy (and money) competing against OTHER NETWORKS.

Rookie move.

I take my pills about 9:30 and then I can stay up awhile. I like that Leno fella because he seems funny and to care about folks. I don't like that Conan -- he's a smart-elleck and uses cuss words.

Yay, Jay!!!! Way to go!!!

Jay is great and I think this will find some sort of audience but they lost me at the car wash clip - on the first episode? really? Bring back Ross the intern!

Channel surfed to Jay for a few minutes just to see if there would be any significant differences between this show and "The Tonight Show". The answer was plain to see in just that short time. Same band.....same lame jokes......and same pretentious Jay. I will never understand this man's appeal. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard Jay say to a star plugging a movie....."Ya' know, I don't normally like these kind of movies but this one was outstanding!" , I'd have enough money to produce my own lame talk show.

Talk at ten is not new, just unheard of to this ADD generation. If 60% of the audience was 50+ it has to figure, Mr. Leno is 59, and not an obnoxious child who imagines he is funny. The funny part, is that this should wipe out O'Brien, one of the aforementioned children.

18 million people with NOTHING else to do. So sad.

Of course it had Tonight Show written all over it. Jay should STILL be on The Tonight Show. Thanks to my TiVo, I can now record him at 10 and play him back at 11:30 in his rightful time slot.

The only changes I would suggest:

Get John Melendez back
Make the monologue longer
And stand closer to Kevin Eubanks

Good luck Jay! You're off to a great start. And remember, if things don't work out at NBC, ABC and/or Fox will welcome you with open arms.

I feel so bad for Jay. First of all, I need to come to LA and give him a really nice hair cut. He has the most gorgeous hair and it looks so nice when it's cut SHORTER. He is too old to have that long thick hair. Shorter is better for Jay. And the 2 velvet chairs that are on his set, need to be removed. Give Jay his desk back, he did much better sitting behind his desk. I always watched Jay before, I'll give him one more try and see what happens. By the way, Jerry Seinfeld, who I love so much, was very boring. Maybe I was waiting for a joke or two. NBC needs to STEP it up a little more for that show to continue, I don't think he'll make it like he did before.

I'm VERY GLAD to see Jay back! I thought the first show was great.

His "interview" with Obama was hilarious--I normally feel like puking when I see/hear Obama speaking, but I was laughing so hard I didn't even feel like vomiting.

Good job, Jay. I'm glad you're back. :)

I really enjoyed the Jay Leno show. It was great to see him back on TV, I do think, however that people may tire of Jay five days a week. If he were on once a week that might be better. Look at what happened to "Millionaire." I for one, am a fan of Jay's and I will watch as much as I can. I enjoyed the car wash skit, Jerry Seinfeld was funny and I was really surprised Jay almost got Kanye to cry. I thought that was awesome! I think Jay's doing a great job and I'm looking forward to tonight's episode.

its ed sullivan redux. i wish they had a real band however instead of the miscreants leno has had for so many years - actually that was one of the best things about leno leaving the tonight show was that i did not have to look at those ratty looking muscisians playing typical lowest common denominator music - real low class and boring. other than that leno's show is fine and id watch it.

Good news for Jay,
I still prefer Johnny Carson,Ed,Doc &Tommy Newsome !

its to bad jay had Kanye West on his show i thought jay had better taste then to have someone as stupid as him on his first show.guess i'll start watching somthing else.

I watched Leno and Letterman for many years, switching channels.
In the last few years I started favoring David. Last night after
15 minutes switched to one of the inimitable PBS channels. Figure ?
John W

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