When it comes to the recent shifts in late night, there are a few certainties. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are right where we left them, Jimmy Fallon's a delight, and Seth Meyers' dimples are everything. There's also the fact that these first few weeks of change-ups can probably serve as a valuable lesson to NBC. Like the fact that Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show premiere tied with Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show premiere — and beat Jay Leno's return to the same slot.
First, the facts: When The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien premiered in early June 2009 it brought in 9.17 million viewers. Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show in early March 2010 brought in 6.67 million. According to Deadline, Jimmy Fallon, who took over the show Monday night, brought in roughly the same as O'Brien, though the exact numbers have not come in yet.
This tells us a couple of things. One is that people like the familiar, but with a twist: Both O'Brien and Fallon were late night vets and beloved comedians taking their places, for the first time, in a very legendary seat. Big premieres like that will likely always draw in a good amount of viewers the first time around, save for some kind of boycott situation.
Which brings us to Jay Leno. Leno, of course, was reinstated as host of The Tonight Show amid rabid controversy and general side-eye from the public over NBC's decision to unceremoniously shove O'Brien out of the seat to bring Leno out of retirement. That didn't go quite as well for them as they likely hoped. The proof is in the numbers.
NBC has a lot to learn at the moment — these days, it's seen as a network once mighty that's been struggling to re-find its voice — but it finds itself in an interesting position right now. And what they're learning, yet again, is that audiences don't respond to remaining stagnant. Combine that with the lesson they learned when firing-then-rehiring of Community creator Dan Harmon — audiences don't like when you so blatantly mistreat the talent — and we can hope that NBC will actually take this information to heart.