Feature

Why David Letterman beat Conan O'Brien

And what his ratings win could mean for the future of late-night TV

"There could be a new king emerging in late-night television," said David Bauder in the Associated Press. David Letterman's CBS Late Show "whipped" NBC's Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien "in the ratings last week by nearly 800,000 viewers." Letterman generally used to lose to The Tonight Show "when Jay Leno was the host, and he hasn't had this big a victory margin since returning from heart surgery in 2000."

This "continues a roll for a resurgent Letterman," said David Zurawik in The Baltimore Sun, "and a troubling downward slide for NBC's Tonight Show since Conan O'Brien took over from Jay Leno." But to be fair, Letterman did have former Beatle Paul McCartney on his show Wednesday (watch), which hauled in an astounding "4.4 million viewers." And Conan is still pulling in more young viewers, which is what advertisers are primarily interested in.

Still, it even "seems like O'Brien's supposed fortress of support within Gen X and Gen Y circles" is "eroding with every passing week," said Mark Graham in New York magazine. But we won't really know how all of this will shake out until "Jay Leno comes back into the NBC fray in mid-September" at the 10 p.m. slot, and "we don't anticipate anyone over at NBC hitting the panic switch and making any rash moves until the end of the year."

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