Last night, Conan O’Brien returned to late night TV for the first time since his acrimonious departure from NBC in January. The debut episode of his new TBS show, “Conan,” was a hit with higher ratings than Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” Dave Letterman’s “Late Show,” “The Daily Show,” and “The Colbert Report.”
Approximately 4.15 million viewers tuned in for O’brien’s inaugural TBS broadcast, 3.28 million of whom were in the adults 18-49 demographic that is the gold standard for television advertisers. Last night’s episode of the “Tonight Show” was O’Brien’s closest competition with about 3.45 million viewers. Letterman drew an audience of 3.39 million. “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” earned an average of 1.1 million viewers apiece.
After his break with NBC, O’Brien was contractually prohibited from appearing on television until this month. But he managed to build a huge following during his exile from the airwaves by playing up his martyr status with a live concert tour and savvy use of social media. O’Brien joined Twitter in February and has since accumulated over 1.8 million followers on the social networking site.
O’Brien’s premiere ratings are exactly what TBS was hoping for when they signed him to a five-year contract that was reportedly worth at least $10 million. In a statement on the ratings for “Conan,” Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin called O’Brien’s premiere performance “extraordinary.”
“Conan’s audience has been very vocal online, and he clearly made a smooth transition from Twitter to TBS,” Koonin said.
The question now is how much of his impressive debut audience O’Brien will be able to retain now that the long-running saga of his exit from NBC has truly come to an end. TBS will probably be happy if he’s able to hold on to at least half of the viewers who watched the premiere.