David Letterman ends 17-year ratings drought against Jay Leno


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The late-night talk wars are heating up again.

In the November sweep, CBS’ ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ beat NBC’s ‘Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ among adults 18 to 49 for the first time since 1994, according to Nielsen. Letterman scored a 0.9 rating over Leno’s 0.8.

Among total viewers, Leno retained a razor-thin edge, 3.6 million vs. 3.5 million.


‘Tonight Show’ has struggled to recapture its former glory since NBC reinstalled Leno as host in early 2010, following Conan O’Brien’s brief tenure at the show. Before the bungled transition, Leno was routinely drawing more than 5 million viewers per night and Letterman was a distant second.

Another beneficiary of Leno’s decline appears to be ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel. ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ was the only late-night show to build viewership compared with last year, up 7% to an average of 2 million viewers.

Meanwhile, CBS’ Craig Ferguson lost a bit of ground in his 12:37 a.m. battle with NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, at least in total viewers. The NBC show was flat with 1.8 million viewers, while Ferguson slipped 7% to 1.7 million. However, Ferguson’s ‘The Late Late Show’ defeated Fallon’s ‘Late Night’ for the first time in a November sweep among adults 18 to 49.

Which late-night show do you prefer?


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--Scott Collins (