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Conan Definitively Beats Dave Forever! Not.

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Tuesday, CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman beat The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and an NBC executive reminded us that late-night “is a marathon,” not a sprint. 

Last night, Conan edged out Dave in the ratings, posting his first rating increase since he took over. And demographic ratings for last week came in, showing Conan handily beat Dave among the age groups that largely determine ad rates. Therefore, NBC declared Conan “The New King of Late Night”!

Lesson one: It is worth remembering that networks program to make money, not to get the most viewers as a goal in and of itself, and the decision to give Conan the show was at least partly a demographic one. 

Lesson two: That Conan should trounce Dave in demographic his first week is no surprise. Nor was it a huge deal that Dave beat Conan one night this week. Nor is it a huge deal that Conan beat Dave last night. None of this short-term stuff matters much, and though TV writers like me need stuff to obsess about—and material to blog about in the summer months—the fact is we all need to sit on our hands and see where this thing shakes out. 

Lesson three: There are lies, damned lies and network press releases.