“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” closed out its massive run on Thursday night, and while we know that there are still some skeptics out there as per whether or not it really is the host’s last night on NBC, most of the viewing public seems to smartly be buying into the idea that it will be. After all, there’s no other way to explain the gargantuan ratings that we are talking about now.
Overall, an incredible 14.6 million viewers tuned in to see Jay close the door on his institution last night, which completely put every other show on network TV to shame despite whatever attempts that they may have made to try and thwart him. This is the highest-rated episode of “The Tonight Show” in over fifteen years, as the last one to get better ratings was the one on the same night of the “Seinfeld” finale back in 1998. That show brought in around 15 million, but it clearly had a much bigger lead-in.
Late-night TV was very much a different time in the 1990s, but even with that in mind, there are still only three Leno broadcasts ever that generated a better number than what the show pulled Thursday, with one of them being Jay’s first-ever show (16.1 million), and the record holder being the one that followed the “Cheers” finale (which drew over 22 million, a bigger audience than any primetime show averages in live viewing today).
When it comes to the key 18-49 demographic, there is one thing still worth noting here: Leno is still not the choice of the young viewer. While his 3.8 rating is very impressive for late-night, it lags behind the 4.4 that Conan O’Brien drew for his unceremonious final episode of “The Tonight Show.” (Conan had his fun at Leno’s expense last night.)
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