Jimmy Fallon first 'Tonight Show' rating: Strong, but below Leno farewell

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Jimmy Fallon picked up strong sampling during his first night as NBC’s new The Tonight Show host, yet couldn’t surpass the recent record set by a departing Jay Leno.

Fallon had a 7.1 rating in the overnight metered-market household ratings Monday night, which was higher rated than all but two of last week’s prime-time non-Olympic programs on NBC’s rivals and up 48 percent from the Feb. 7 finale of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. That also ties for the second-highest Tonight Show overnight rating since 2009 (Leno’s last telecast before Conan O’Brien took over) and also tied O’Brien’s Tonight debut that same year.

Yet Fallon was down 23 percent from Leno’s final Tonight episode, which had a giant 9.2 rating, though it should be noted that Fallon’s first Tonight started about 25 minutes later in the evening. Both Leno’s final Tonight and Fallon’s first benefited from a huge lead-in from NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics (though interestingly, O’Brien matched Fallon’s rating without Olympic support, plus debuted in the summer).

The big test for Fallon, of course, is not in this heavily promoted post-Olympics premiere slot, but the weeks, months and years to come. It’s a cliche to write that a TV show’s ratings are a marathon not a sprint, but it’s a cliche that’s never more true than when analyzing late-night talk shows.

Behind the desk, Fallon’s first night was playful and competent (if workmanlike and polite). As noted in EW’s review: “Time-slot rival Jimmy Kimmel is the inheritor of the Letterman tradition: Too cool for school. Fallon is the guy who thinks school is pretty cool.”

While EW’s Owen Gleiberman wrote an essay on Fallon’s succession arguing that the late-night host could be the next Johnny Carson, noting, “Jimmy Fallon is an exuberantly witty late-night party host who radiates a love for what he’s doing that can’t be matched.”

Also last night in prime-time: NBC’s Sochi coverage climbed for men’s skiing coverage, averaging 23.5 million viewers and a 5.6 adults 18-49 rating. This is up 11 percent from the comparable night in Vancouver, marking a rare surge for NBC’s Sochi coverage that goes above 2010 levels. ABC’s The Bachelor, Fox’s Almost Human and The Following were all steady with last week’s low Olympics-crushed numbers. The CW shoved new Twilight-but-with-aliens soap drama Star-Crossed into the Sochi firing line and it unsurprisingly got only 1.2 million viewers and a 0.4 rating.

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