Late News

Yesterday, the morning after Jimmy Kimmel Live (which, by the way, is not live) debuted at 11:34, the initial reports were that he'd topped both Leno and Letterman by a hair…

In his 11:35 PM debut for his ABC late-night talk show, the host beat now-rivals Jay Leno and David Letterman in households and in the key adults 18-49 demo. In 25 markets with local people meters, Jimmy Kimmel Live earned a 1.0/5 rating in 18-49, besting The Tonight Show's 0.8/4 and Late Show's 0.6/3. Among Nielsen's 56 metered markets (with Memphis and Salt Lake City excluded), Kimmel's move from midnight to a half-hour earlier saw his show receive a 2.8/8 household result, compared with Letterman's 2.7/7 and Leno's 2.4/6.

As you can see, the numbers are very close and since it's a debut show, probably not indicative of any future trend. Nevertheless, I immediately received an e-mail from a devoted Kimmel fan in Kentucky. This gent has written me before, insisting that my lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Kimmel is in the nature of a factual error since it's inarguably obvious J.K. is the greatest late night host ever, putting Carson to shame and inevitably sending Jay and Dave off to the old folks' home. I hope they get more honest caregivers there than my mother had.

Anyway, the gent in Kentucky wrote in part…

Kimmel won the time slot and this is just Day 1. He'll win the time slot tomorrow night and the night after and the night after. He's going up and Leno and Letterman are going down, down. He will win every single night by wider and wider margins.

As it turned out, Kimmel's winning streak lasted about another hour. As you can see in plain English in the above news item, they were reporting preliminary ratings from 35 markets with local people meters and 56 metered markets. This was not the whole country. Not long after I received Kentucky's victory dance message, more numbers came in…

On its first night in its new time slot, Jimmy Kimmel Live had more viewers than The Late Show With David Letterman but fell short of topping The Tonight Show. ABC's Kimmel pulled in 3.097 million viewers Tuesday night compared to 2.882 million for CBS' Letterman and 3.274 million for Leno. The Tonight Show got 1.084 million in the Adults 18-49 demographic compared to Jimmy Kimmel Live's 887,000. But Kimmel solidly bested The Late Show among demo, getting 30% more than Letterman's 683,000.

This is still all very close and not indicative of any future trend. All it means is that Kimmel didn't crush the competition his first night. It doesn't mean his ratings won't go down next week or up the week after. But it does lead to a lot of contradictory headlines…


On his second night, Kimmel finished third in total viewers but tied Leno in the 18-49 bracket. It'll probably be a three-way race for the next few weeks though with Leno generally in the lead. If Kimmel's still neck-and-neck in two months, he'll be doing fine. But really, all he probably has to do is beat what Nightline used to get in that time slot. ABC has to look at the numbers and feel they're better off with the shows in that order than they were with the old arrangement.

I haven't watched Kimmel's show in its new berth yet but I'm tempted to. Tom Shales gave it about as bad a review as any show has ever gotten…and Tom Shales is so rarely right about anything.

In any case, I don't think either Jay or Dave are going anywhere for a while. According to some reports, Leno has just been extended for two more years. His old contract was up in 2014 and it's not clear whether a two-year extension would keep him there until two years from now or two years from when the old pact expires. Either way, he's there for a while…especially if a so-called "host with a demographic advantage" isn't doing any better in that category. In that sense, Kimmel may wind up doing Leno a great service if he demonstrates that a younger star wouldn't do any better with 18-49 viewers.