Ratings for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brienrose 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.
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.
"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.'"