That put writerless Mr. Leno ahead of CBS's "The Late Show With David Letterman," whose Worldwide Pants production company had reached an agreement with the Writers Guild of America that let scribes work for that program.
The curiosity factor
Fast national ratings may be available later this afternoon and may change the competitive picture somewhat from the overnight numbers from 55 markets metered by Nielsen Co. The early numbers suggest that perhaps viewers were more interested in seeing Mr. Leno work with a short staff than Mr. Letterman with his full crew behind him.
Mr. Leno's "Tonight Show" averaged a 5.3 household rating in the 55 overnight markets and a 12 share, up 47% from the program's overnight season average of a 3.6 rating. Last night's marks were the highest overnight numbers since Dec. 7, 2005.
Mr. Letterman's "Late Show" averaged a 4.3 household rating/10 share last night, up 39% from its overnight season ratings average of 3.1.
Mr. O'Brien's "Late Night" averaged a 2.5 rating/8 share, its highest since Dec. 21, 2005, and a 56% improvement over the season average of 1.6. Craig Ferguson's "Late Late Show" averaged a 1.9/6 last night, up 27% from its season average of 1.5.
"Last Call With Carson Daily," the latest of the late-night shows and the first to return to originals without writers in December, averaged 1.4/6 last night.
ABC's "Nightline" posted a 3.0/6, followed by "Jimmy Kimmel" with a 1.4/4.
(Season overnight averages for the ABC shows were not available this morning.)
Strike provides material
Nielsen's ratings represent the percentage of all TV homes in the measured area that were tuned to a particular show. The share represents the percentage of all TV sets that were in use in that area that were tuned to the show.
The shows played off their strike-induced absences.
"Gawd, it's good to see you," "The Late Late Show" host Mr. Ferguson said at the end of his first new monologue in the two months since the writers strike shoved late-night talk shows into reruns.
NBC-owned "Tonight Show" and "Late Night," as well as ABC-owned "Jimmy Kimmel" are not able to bring back their writers because those networks have not settled with the striking WGA. In addition, the WGA is picketing and otherwise pressuring stars and other potential guests to not cross the picket lines.
Beards and no beards
Worldwide Pants-owned "Late Show" and "Late Late" on CBS have negotiated a deal with the WGA. That gives them the advantage of being able to put their full writing staffs back to work starting with last night's shows and makes them the only shows bearing the WGA's seal of approval for potential guests.
A partial tale of the tapes from last night showed:
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Michelle Greppi is national editor for TV Week.