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Funny Thing, Letterman Beats Leno Here

By Alan Pergament

I’ve already told you that Buffalo is a funny TV market.

I was referring to how unusual this market is when it comes to national news ratings, with CBS affiliate Channel 4 in a stronger position here for the network’s morning and evening news than it is nationally and ABC affiliate Channel 7 much worse in both categories.

So it should come as no surprise that the unusual nature of this market also holds true with the funny men who appear in late-night.

During the February sweeps, CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” on Channel 4 out-rated NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Nationally, Leno still wins, which has caused some analysts to be surprised about the continuing stories speculating that Jimmy Fallon will replace him on “The Tonight Show” by 2014 because NBC is worried that ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel will grab more of the age 18 through 49 audience the longer Leno stays there.

The New York Times TV reporter, Bill Carter, who is a late-night expert, reported last week that the Fallon for Leno trade is expected by September of 2014 and that NBC is building a new studio for Fallon in New York City for the eventual return of “The Tonight Show” there.

Jimmy Fallon

Kimmel hasn’t exactly taken Western New York by storm since his January premiere. During his first February sweeps period since taking over the 11:35 p.m. time slot from “Nightline” on ABC affiliate Channel 7, Kimmel’s program (2.6) was a poor third in household ratings here to Letterman’s show (4.5) and Leno’s show (4.0).

As I pointed out in my former blog some weeks ago, some asterisks should come with the ratings. Kimmel is being carried on Channel 7, the weakest network affiliate in town and that doesn’t help. His rating also is close to the 2.7 that “Nightline” averaged here in the time slot a year ago and 65 percent higher than Kimmel averaged when his show aired at 12:05 a.m.

Additionally, ABC isn’t looking for Kimmel to drive household ratings. It wants him to grab viewers in the age 18-49 demographic that the 45-year-old host will leave in less than five years. He was very competitive nationally with that demo.

Not so much locally. Letterman was the big winner in the local demographic categories of age 18-49 and 25-54 during the February sweeps over Leno. Kimmel’s score in those demos on Channel 7 was lower than “Nightline” received in that time slot a year ago and “Nightline” is a news program that primarily appeals to older viewers.

“All we care about is 18-49,” Kimmel told me and several other television critics during an interview session in Los Angeles in January. “That’s really all the network cares about. Not to say I don’t care about people under 18 or over 49. And I am headed into that category myself. That’s what they sell, so that’s all that really seems to matter.”

“I remember well my first paying job in Seattle our target audience was 25-54 and I was 21 and not even in the target audience and I felt very out of place then. And I’m sure in six or seven years I’ll feel out of place here too. Luckily I am very immature.” 

As much as some people may hate it, the age of the audience is what TV is also about. After all, network TV is all about making money and the 18-49 demo is where the national ad money is more plentiful. Locally, the age 25-54 demo is crucial.

Back in January, I told Kimmel about his lead-in problems in Buffalo and asked him if it concerned him or if he had any advice for Channel 7 to get out the audience.

“Lead-in is a big deal,” acknowledged Kimmel, who has never been to Buffalo. “It is not like ‘they better get their act together in Buffalo.’ I’m sure they are trying just as hard as we are.”

“I would like to come to Buffalo,” added Kimmel. “I hear the Anchor Bar has the best wings in the world. If they would leave a trail of wings from Buffalo to Los Angeles, I would probably follow it straight there.”

Leno has tasted Buffalo chicken wings on visits here several times. His picture is plastered on area restaurant walls sampling their food. It no longer seems to be helping him attract viewers here. A year ago, Leno beat Letterman decisively here in household ratings and in the 18-49 demo and tied him in the age 25-54 demo. Now Letterman is on top in all three categories by a good margin. It would seem to indicate that Kimmel’s entry into the late-night wars has hurt Leno and helped Letterman more here.

NBC executives have had trouble solving its late night situation for years starting with the ill-fated Conan O’Brien experiment and the quick return of Leno to “The Tonight Show.” The ouster of O’Brien hurt Leno’s already-damaged, nice guy image and made him a bigger bad guy in some quarters.

Now it appears the bad guy is about to get his comeuppance with the continuing reports by Carter and others that Fallon is all but set to replace him. There is no clamoring here for Fallon. “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon finishes third in the 12:35 a.m. time slot on Channel 2 behind Craig Ferguson’s “Late, Late Show” on Channel 4 and “Nightline” on Channel 7. Additionally, Ferguson clobbers Fallon by a 2-1 margin here in the key demos and even does better than Leno among 18-49 viewers.

Still the Fallon-for Leno move makes sense to astute late-night observers who follow the money.

If anything, the initial reports that NBC plans to wait until 2014 to replace Leno with Fallon were surprising. As I suggested before in my former blog, why wait and give Kimmel more time to own the national 18-49 audience?

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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

@StillTalkinTV |