Leno Bows Big -- Thanks to Kanye

Rash Report: But 'Monday Night Football' Scores at the End

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Skits and skittishness marked -- or marred -- the program premiere of NBC's "The Jay Leno Show," as the excitement over semi-live TV was dampened by dependence on seemingly scripted material, including an interview with a comic who's good off-the-cuff, Jerry Seinfeld. But the night's one unscripted moment, in which Jay gently asked guest Kanye West what his late mother would have thought of him grabbing the mic -- and the moment -- from Taylor Swift at MTV's "Video Music Awards," is what people were talking about today.

Jay Leno and Kanye West on 'The Jay Leno Show'
Jay Leno and Kanye West on 'The Jay Leno Show' Credit: Justin Lubin
In our angry, noisy culture, Kanye's silent tears spoke volumes.

And millions were listening -- and watching -- as "Leno" leapt to nearly 18.4 million total viewers and a 5.3/14 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which NBC reports was its best demo delivery in the timeslot since last election eve, and the best overall since the August 2008 Summer Olympics. Compared to last season's "Tonight Show" average, "Leno" indexed at 379%.

Coupled with a special episode of "America's Got Talent" (3.3/9), NBC easily won the broadcast battle with an overall 3.9/10, well above Fox (1.8/5), CBS (1.7/5), the CW (1.3/3) and ABC (1.1/3).

Running against rivals' reruns -- except for the season premieres of the CW's "One Tree Hill" (1.2/3, tumbling 29% from last year's first episode, but rebounding to 86% of its original episode season average) and "Gossip Girl" (1.4/3, off 18% from last year's first whispers, but matching its season average) -- and after weeks of incessant tune-in promotions, the night was sure to go to "Leno."

The proof, of course, will be the ratings for night two, let alone week, month and, if it works, year two. But what the show will need is not just the scheduling serendipity of booking good guests like Kanye -- who became the day's top pop-culture story just hours before his Leno appearance -- but the ability for "Leno's" bookers to call him, or whoever else has highlighted or hijacked the news narrative, and have him or her readily realize that "Leno" is the primetime pop-culture town square and an immediate appearance is a must.

In other words, the show needs the same spontaneity witnessed by the four teams in the two thrilling games that marked the other big event on TV last night, the season kick-off of ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

Like last year, ESPN ran a double-header. And despite (or perhaps because of) the Leno hype, "Monday Night Football" actually outscored "Leno" for the first game, as New England quarterback Tom Brady (himself a pop-culture figure beyond football due to Super Bowl rings, and the ring he put on supermodel Gisele Bundchen) led the Patriots to a come-from-behind victory over the Buffalo Bills. It notched 15% more fans than last year en route to delivering a 5.9/18. Game two was not as marquee, but just as exciting, as the San Diego Chargers also came back to win. ESPN also won, as the face-off spiked 33% to a 5.7/20, which was also higher than "The Jay Leno Show."

OK, "Leno" bookers, get Tom and Gisele for tonight!

WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: OK, granted, sitting on the couch isn't exactly the best place to get inspired to lose weight or gain control over your retirement. But two shows try to do just that with the program premiere of NBC's "Biggest Loser" and PBS's "Retirement Revolution."
Wednesday: Pilots can be promising, only for the story to sputter in the next few episodes. So far, so good for "Glee," as last week's episode two was just as good, if not better than, the pilot. Check out week three on Fox.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Tuesday's ratings race will come down to which has more pull -- the season finales of CBS's "Big Brother," Fox's "More to Love" and ABC's "Shaq Vs." or the season starter for NBC's "The Biggest Loser"?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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