The Conan exit deal is done – probably the largest payout in television history for someone averaging a 2.5 rating.
So, with apologies to Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, George Lopez, Charlie Rose, etc., it comes down, once again, to Letterman vs. Leno.
Who will win the ratings battle (long-term) once they resume head-to-head competition March 1, 2010?
It’s very simple:
Jay Leno wins – without a doubt.
DEMOGRAPHICS: Late night talk show viewers are not the Taco-Bell-eating slacker college students that most of these hosts think they’re ‘in touch with’. That demo is watching The Daily Show, Colbert, Adult Swim or they’re online or playing video games (maybe they’re not consuming any media and are out pounding drinks and, God willing, conversing with the opposite sex). So, older viewers are watching Jay and Dave – and older viewers prefer Jay. It’s warm and safe television with Headlines and Jaywalking. Dave is ‘too edgy’ for older America, even in his advanced years.
VACATION: Jay is notorious for working 46-48 weeks a year. Dave works… less than that. Even if Dave wins the first few weeks after Jay returns in March (as expected), Jay will pick up viewers once Dave goes on his first long vacation.
WORK ETHIC: While I am not doubting that Dave works very hard to put on his show four nights a week, Jay is indefatigable. He always seems to be out with the public, doing stand-up, corporate events, car shows… almost anything the network asks him to do. Jay has a high visibility factor that Dave… doesn’t have. (Not that you need that to succeed – Johnny Carson was a painfully shy recluse and did just fine.) However, when you’re trying to win back the hearts and minds of your viewers, being visible with “your public” can go a long way.
HISTORY: Jay Leno has been a consistent ratings winner for 17 years. Yes, bad press and public sentiment has damaged that but most of Jay’s fans could care less about ‘The Tonight Show’ debacle (though, I think everyone would love to see Jeff Zucker get fired).
Finally, Jay spent 20 years in comedy clubs across the country before getting ‘The Tonight Show’ and he cut his teeth in that ruthless, back-stabbing world. If he survived the shit that went on in those clubs, he can survive almost anything.
Dave did quite a bit of stand-up in the 1970s, yes, but never really immersed himself into that world. Being a great comic was not on his radar. He has always been perceived (as he wished) as a TV guy.
Jay is a comic first and a TV guy next – which is why his fans keep watching – they simply want to hear jokes on ‘The Tonight Show’ told by a comic and not just a “funny person” doing bits.
Jill Kennedy – OnMedea
P.S. – Where were all these new Conan fans when he really needed them – over the summer when he started hosting The Tonight Show? If he had the ratings then that he has now – there is no controversy. Jay would be out and Conan would be in.