NEW YORK — After a smashing return, Jay Leno appears headed to a battle with David Letterman for late-night television supremacy.
The Nielsen Co. says Leno averaged 5.6 million viewers last week, his first back at NBC’s “The Tonight Show” following the ill-fated prime time experiment. Letterman had 3.7 million at CBS. Leno took advantage of curiosity over his return and a strong lineup of guests, including Olympic stars and Sarah Palin. It was a half-million more than he averaged his last season at “Tonight.”
It’s been much closer the second week. Through four nights, Leno is averaging 4.3 million viewers and Letterman has 4 million.
Considering Leno usually beat Letterman by a million and a half during their last season of competition, that’s a sign of erosion for NBC’s late-night franchise. Letterman consistently beat Conan O’Brien after O’Brien took over last year.