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Jay Leno's Primetime Debut Watched By 18 Million Viewers

NBC's 'The Jay Leno Show' got off to a very strong start on Monday night.

Leno's 10 PM debut comedy was seen by 18.4 million viewers. That's more viewers than any entertainment show since the 'American Idol' finale in May and just about double the audience when Conan O'Brien took over the 'The Tonight Show'.

And most importantly for local stations, by pushing 'Headlines' towards the end, the show held its viewers throughout the hour.

The 'America’s Got Talent' finale, which was seen by 15.2 million, definitely helped but thanks to its endless promotion and Kanye West's serendipitous scheduled appearance, it was tough to not be aware of Leno's debut.

Of course, no one expects Leno to keep up these numbers every night but even if the comedian is able to merely compete in the ratings with the exponentially more expensive show's he'll be up against at 10 PM on other networks, the show will considered a huge success.

"It was great to have him back," NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker told reporters at a conference. "Obviously Jay got off to a very nice start last night and we very pleased. There's a very long way to go from here and we'll judge this on fifty two weeks, not one night. But the fact that it opened so well is a great sign."

Some critics are complaining that Jay's new show looks a lot like his old show. Our response: What is that necessarily a bad thing?

Leno averaged 5.2 million viewers on his last season hosting the 'Tonight Show' and went a stretch of eight months without losing in the ratings battle even once to Letterman. Now, his former CBS competition is regularly beating Conan.

In fact, in his 14th week as host, the most recent week for which final numbers are available, Conan had just 1,000 more 18-to-34-year-olds than Leno had a year earlier. So much for the network's constant insistence and its fallback that, although they may be lower in total viewers, the change was made to reach a younger demographic.

And that may be NBC's biggest problem in the coming months, not Jay Leno and his new timeslot.

September 15, 2009 |

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