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Conan O'Brien dashes to solid start as new 'Tonight Show' host

June 2, 2009 | 11:42 am


To anyone who wondered if viewers would accept Conan O'Brien as the new host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," the answer based on his debut Monday appears to be a solid yes.

O'Brien's premiere on "Tonight" drew a 7.1 rating/17 share among households in the top 56 "metered markets," according to early data from Nielsen Media Research. That was the highest such number for a Monday "Tonight" in more than four years and nearly twice the average rating for "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (3.9) during the second quarter of this year. Due partly to all the attention surrounding O'Brien's takeover as host, "Tonight" trounced Monday's "Late Show With David Letterman" (2.8 rating/7 share). The Letterman number was basically on par with that program's second-quarter average (2.9), indicating that O'Brien might not have much effect one way or another on the CBS show's performance.  

However, O'Brien — who began the show with a filmed piece showing him dashing across the U.S. on foot to get to his new Universal City studio — might not have quite the ratings firepower that Leno did. O'Brien's premiere lagged behind the 8.8 rating/20 share that his predecessor earned for his Friday farewell from the program. 

Rating patterns can develop at a glacial pace in late night, and the time period will be closely watched now that Leno has exited "Tonight" after a 17-year tenure atop the ratings. In September, he will begin a new 10 p.m. talk show every weeknight on NBC. 

Final ratings for Monday's shows, including total viewer figures, will be available June 11. 

— Scott Collins