Conan O'Brien

Ratings for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien rose through last week, and were 50 percent higher Friday than the show's season average, according to a preliminary Nielsen Co. estimate reported by The Associated Press.

The figures, based on large TV markets, showed that O'Brien beat CBS' Late Show with David Letterman — and in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that NBC relies on to set advertising prices, O'Brien even beat The Jay Leno Show,  which airs in prime time.

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O'Brien's team sees the ratings as vindication. His manager, Gavin Polone, on Saturday compared O'Brien's ratings to when Leno, trailing Letterman in the mid-1990s, got Hugh Grant to appear after his arrest. Leno passed Letterman in popularity and held his ratings lead till the end.

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"People who never watched Conan before are saying, 'I'll try it,'" Polone said. "Now they're saying, 'this is good, I'll stick with it.'"