Fewer people are watching late-night talk shows
Leno and Letterman are increasingly being identified as an older generation’s talk show hosts. Nielsen said the median age of a Letterman viewer was 55. Leno’s audience used to be younger, but is now 56.
Kimmel’s audience went up by 10 percent to 1.7 million people for the period ending with June. ABC pushed Kimmel forward, believing he could take advantage of the NBC turmoil, and worked on approaches that could serve as a template for others. He does increasingly elaborate comic bits that are designed as much for Internet penetration as for his show. ABC also scheduled prime-time specials around events like the NBA Finals.
“We gave this show a lot of opportunity for additional exposure,” said Danielle Greene, vice president of late night for the ABC Entertainment Group.
Stronger ratings for “Nightline” may have helped Kimmel, too.
Perhaps most alarming for network executives is that the ratings sag came after a stretch of time last winter when shifting late-night hosts were front-page news, a riveting personal drama that the hosts were eager to play out in front of the camera. O’Brien’s aggrieved final shows on NBC drew big ratings and won his staff an Emmy nomination for writing.
Yet there have been no lasting benefits.
The ratings trouble “has happened pretty quickly,” Adgate said. “We’re kind of at a crossroads to see which direction it’s going to go.”