Let’s do this by the numbers:
Rating of Conan O’Brien’s debut Tonight Show: 7.1
Rating of last night’s Tonight Show: 2.9
Rating of last night’s Late Show with David Letterman: 3.4
Episodes it took for Dave to pass Conan: 7
Time it took after ratings news for an NBC executive to use the line that late night “is a marathon,” not a sprint: Evidently, moments.
Mind you, I’m not slagging on Conan here. I like his show. (I like Dave’s too; for NBC, that may be part of the problem.) As a critic, if I’m happy with Conan creatively, I don’t personally care if he wins its time slot. That said, this is a pretty good day to be in the not-caring-if-Conan-wins-his-time-slot business.
Next up: the demographic (i.e., age group) ratings, later this week, which will be a big measure of the Conan move as a business proposition.