Ratings: Fallon's Tonight Show Debut Matches Conan's, Draws Smaller Crowd Than Leno Finale

Ratings The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonThe premiere of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon showed some pop (and lock) in the wake of so much pomp and circumstance, scoring 11.3 million total viewers and a 3.8 demo rating laaate on Monday night.

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That total audience represents The Tonight Show‘s second-largest draw since May 29, 2009 (aka Jay Leno’s first send-off, which did 11.9 mil), trailing only The Chin’s second see-ya this Feb. 6 (which drew 14.6 mil, also leading out of Olympics coverage).

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The demo rating, meanwhile, matches both Leno’s recent arrivederci and Conan O’Brien’s own debut as Tonight Show host, making it the highest-rated Tonight Show since Conan’s Jan. 2010 send-off (which notched a 4.4).

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Versus Fallon’s Late Night finale, the audience and demo surged some 70 percent. TVLine readers gave the premiere an average grade of “B+.”

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17 Comments
  1. Eric says:

    That’s awesome. I hope a lot of new viewers enjoyed it and continue to tune in. Of course I don’t expect these numbers to remain consistent past opening week, I just want to see Fallon get as good numbers as Leno was getting. I feel Jimmy deserves it.

  2. jethro stevenson says:

    While I like Fallon, he probably won’t be able to get the audience that Jay got. That’s mostly due to the fact that the audience of The Tonight Show is made up of a bunch of stubborn, reactionaries (obviously not everybody, but yes a large amount). Jay knew this and played it smartly, talking down to them/watering down his jokes and giving them the humor they wanted (Jay as a comic is much better; vastly sarcastic and cynical); I would say that Dave probably does this now too as well (just compare Dave in the 80s to now). But as Conan found out, this is not the audience that understands subversive humor or sarcasim. They just want straighforward uncreative humor; anything else will confuse them and be viewed as weird.

    • TV Gord says:

      Those people who don’t get subversive humor and sarcasm are dying off…and I’m not just talking about age. I know people in their 70s who “get” it.

      • jethro stevenson says:

        Yeah but there will always be a new generation host or style of humor that an older generation doesn’t get. It’s a cycle. But the truth is it’s not dying off fast enough for Fallon to get Leno’s ratings. He won’t truly have a fair shot until Dave retires in five years (or plus or minus a few). The people who don’t get subversive humor and sarcasm will move to Letterman because they’ll understand him second best after Leno (this happened last time with Conan). Letterman’s been on long enough for Leno’s audience to like him.

      • cod tornado says:

        …And there are boatloads of dim-bulb twenty-somethings who don’t get it as well. Fallon’s survival on the Tonight Show is far from guaranteed.

    • cod tornado says:

      @jethro stevenson -“straighforward uncreative humor” Incongruent. Straight-forward humor or otherwise – it has to be creative to work. And Jay had that nailed down. Jay is constantly underestimated by the smug and mostly hipster fans of former late night hosts. But Jay owns the 11:30 time slot and it may get to him that he has yet to retire on his own terms.
      Predict that this time will be no different as Jay will eventually get bored with time off and either replace Kimmel or show up on Fox. If this happens, Fallon will be buried in a matter of weeks. Another NBC fail waiting to happen.

  3. jethro stevenson says:

    Probably wasn’t a smart idea to replace Jay with Fallon (doubt the ratings will be as good) but I think Fallon will be there to stay and Jay is gone for good. Moving the show to New York with Lorne Michaels? Yeah, NBC won’t go back on this one like they did with Conan. They’ll have to stick with it.

    The question is what about Jay Leno? Is he as rumors suggest waiting it out for Fallon to fail and NBC to come crawling back? It’s very believable. I think he’ll probably go to another network at some point. I seriously doubt that anything he has said about his future can be trusted. You can never count out someone who’s ruthless enough to force out Carson, stab Letterman in the back, and sabotage Conan after five years of leading him on. He does what it takes to win, there’s no doubt about that! Jimmy had better watch his back!

    • TV Gord says:

      You’re reasoning is sound (and I completely agree with your assessment of Leno), but the difference between now and the Conan mess is that he’s done with NBC. He had some time left in his contract last time. Also, all of the executives who royally screwed things up last time are long gone from the executive suites and bathrooms. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again is on a continuous loop on the intercom system up there!

      • jethro stevenson says:

        Yeah, but I still think if NBC asked him back to host Tonight he absolutely would irregardless of a contract. But I don’t believe that will happen this time; if NBC were to undo this it would burn bridges with Lorne and the show was of course moved. It would be too much to undo this time. It would be much harder for a repeat of last time. I think Leno pops up somewhere else at some point.

        • TV Gord says:

          I don’t. I think he’s done with late night on a regular basis (or anything on TV on a regular basis). I’m guessing the next time we see him, it will be as a guest on The Late Show, where he’ll do his good ol’ “What’s My Beef?” stuff that we loved back in the 80s, and the ratings will be very good.

          • jethro stevenson says:

            I doubt we’ll see him on the late show; not after the stuff he did to Johnny and Dave. Jay is the kind of guy who wants a job so bad that he’ll take everyone else back in his own interest. I don’t believe that he can stop working.

  4. Allyson says:

    I liked Leno (Team Leno), but I am warming up to Jimmy Fallon. I do appreciate his comedy. He makes it fun and entertaining, something Conan never did for me. The problem is Conan demanded the job while Fallon never demanded to get the job as host. I feel like Leno and Fallon could be friends. They seem to respect each other and it was nice to see that. I never understood Conan’s weird type of humor. I am young, but I just don’t understand him. I HATE the way NBC treats their employees. It is like they do what they are told to do and don’t give a dam what their employees think and feel. At least this time Leno was asked not told unlike last time to think about retirement from the show. NBC handle the mess with Leno/Conan poorly just like the way they handled Ann Curry getting fired.

    • charles says:

      Sounds like you got it incorrectly. Conan wanted to leave in 2004 for ABC or FOX. NBC decided to fire Leno (like many, Leno was given the option to portray what happened in whatever way he wanted) and promote Conan in order not to lose him. Instead of being truthful about what really happened and going to another network like a normal person, Leno decided to portray his situation as a “retirement” that he was fully okay with and encourage Conan to take the Tonight Show job and convince him that he would be gone and not hanging around/preventing Conan from succeeding at hosting Tonight. His encouragement and friendliness toward Conan (just like with Jimmy today) convinced Conan to be able to trust Jay on this and reup his contract with NBC. It was only later around 2008 that Jay started going back on what he previously said in the press and selfishly staying around and eventually stabbing Conan in the back. Leno has a long history of being a jerk towards other hosts; that’s how he got the Tonight Show. He convinced Carson to retire early (Carson did it as revenge towards NBC) by planting a story in the press. Leno apparently didn’t think he could beat Letterman and felt he had to push Carson out. Carson originally was going to retire later and Leno’s contract (which was to award him Tonight if Carson retired) would be expired by that point. The clause in Leno’s contract apparently had less to do with NBC actually annointing him as Carson’s successor and more to do with kicking the can down the road and keeping him under contract (CBS among others wanted him). It would give them awhile longer to make a decision.

      Obviously the execs are jerks but let’s not forget Leno is as well. We can expect execs to jerks but the problem is Leno’s behavior. If you think Leno and Jimmy are friends, boy are you naive.

  5. Chris says:

    What happened to Fallon’s set? It’s a quarter size of jay lenos

  6. April K says:

    I really hope that Jimmy’s ratings stay up high.. i know like you guys said they wont stay up that high but at least high enough you know. Cause The Roots are killer and He is Hella funny and i just hope that people see that. I love the fact that hes on early.. omg it was hard to stay up and watch Fallon so late…lol. And your right is set is tiny. When U2 was singing i was like omg that is so tight up there…but the inside is pretty and I’m sooo happy for him..I know he’ll do great ^^

  7. Julie says:

    To begin with, it is unfair to compare Jimmy’s premiere week ratings with Conan’s or Jay’s. Jimmy’s on at midnight right now because of the Olympics. Conan got to premiere at the normal 1135pm and that’s when Jay was on normally. Once the Olympics is over, then we’ll really see his true ratings. I think Jimmy is going to do amazing. I think you are going to see a huge increase in the younger demos than what Jay was bringing in, and that’s an advertiser’s dream. I’m in the 25-54 demo and I always wanted to watch Jimmy but he was on too late. Now that he’ll be on earlier, I will make a point to catch at least the first half hour of his show. I can’t usually keep my eyes open past midnight. Don’t judge. I’ve got a 2 year old and a 6 month old. It’s amazing I even make it past 9.

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