Conan O’Brien Beats Leno, Letterman in Debut on TBS

Conan O’Brien
O'Brien generated a preliminary 2.8 rating in his return to late-night television on TBS. Photographer: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Conan O’Brien, who left NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in January, attracted 4.16 million viewers in his return to late-night television on TBS, beating Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS.

“That’s a strong number,” Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at the advertising company Horizon Media, said in an e-mail.

“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was seen by 3.47 million viewers and “Late Show with David Letterman” attracted 3.39 million, Atlanta-based TBS said today in an e-mailed statement, citing preliminary Nielsen Co. data.

O’Brien is returning at a time when late-night TV leadership may be up for grabs. Last month, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” led in the advertiser-sought 18-to-49 age group, a first for a cable show. The time period has historically been dominated by “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

O’Brien, who telecast the show from a newly built studio in Burbank, California, opened with a monologue that included references to his exit from NBC.

“Welcome to my second annual first show,” O’Brien said. “People asked why I named the show ‘Conan.’ It’s so I’d be harder to replace.”

Late-Night TV Battle

TBS used its September coverage of Major League baseball playoffs to promote O’Brien, 47. The network ran TV commercials featuring the John Waite song “Missing You” and floated an orange Conan-TBS-branded blimp during the games. The network created a Facebook page, a YouTube Channel and 24-hour Coco Cam that provided live video of O’Brien’s preparations.

To make room for “Conan,” TBS moved its 11 p.m. show “Lopez Tonight”, starring George Lopez,” to midnight. O’Brien’s first guests were actor Seth Rogan and musician Jack White.

Time Warner rose 30 cents, or 1 percent, to $31.82 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. The shares have gained 9.2 percent this year.

Last month, Stewart averaged 1.3 million 18-to-49-year-old viewers for Viacom Inc.’s Comedy Central. Leno, on NBC, averaged 1.2 million viewers, as did CBS’s Letterman.

O’Brien also led among 18-to-49-year-old viewers. He attracted 3.29 million viewers in that demographic, compared with 1.34 million for Letterman and 952,000 for Leno. “The Daily Show” drew 687,000.

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