The Graying of Network TV

Leno's back at number one, but where are all the young viewers?

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For NBC there's good news and there's bad news. The good new: the Tonight Show has returned to number one following the chaotic Leno-Conan shakeup. The bad news: its viewership is now more than 10 years older. It's a damaging trend for the peacock network because advertisers prefer younger audiences but, as The New York Times reports, it's not just an NBC-specific phenomenon. ABC, NBC and CBS are all hemorrhaging younger viewers. The median age of Leno viewers is 56, David Letterman's median is 54 and for Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Kimmel it's 52. What's happening and what can be done?

  • Young People Are Moving to Cable, writes Bill Carter at The New York Times: "Late night has always held special appeal for young men in particular, but it is no longer a contest as to where this group’s late-night preferences lie. Comedy Central’s two hosts, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, both surpass all the network shows among men ages 18 to 34. That corresponds to the big edge they enjoy in terms of median age."
  • But Old People Can Be Lucrative, notes Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street: "The news is not all bad for NBC which airs The Tonight Show. There has been a surge in pharmaceutical advertising on the network evening news programs which also have older audiences. Ads for drugs that help with erectile dysfunction and bone loss due to menopause have nearly taken over the commercial support of the evening news, which has seen its audience drop as more people turn to cable for their information.
  • Conan Could Capture Young Audiences Via Twitter, writes Gillian Reagan at Business Insider: "The median age of his NBC audience was 47.5, the youngest across all the late night network hosts and Jon Stewart's audience. Considering his recent online renaissance, he might bring an even younger rating to a network like Fox. But TV executives and Conan's team are still hammering out a deal with Fox affiliates to make another late night franchise work."
  • Does George Lopez Have the Answer? asks Julie Miller at Movieline: "Maybe NBC should just rip a page out of the playbook of the late night show with the youngest demo — Lopez Tonight, which boasts a median age of 33 — with some Chola makeovers. Si?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.