I'm a little sick of hearing from these moronic NBC executives (cough, Dick Ebersol, cough) about how it's Conan O'Brien's fault for the drop in ratings since he took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno seven months ago. So let's just take a simple look at the numbers that are commonly available.
Here's an example of the average ratings from shows that aired at 10pm on NBC during the 2008-2009 season:
ER - 10.3 million viewers per week.
Law and Order SVU - 10.3 million per week.
Medium - 9 million per week (and they cancelled it!)
Law and Order - 8.23 million per week.
This season at 10pm, The Jay Leno Show averages 6.8 million viewers. At best, NBC lost 1.5 million viewers per night and at worst lost 3.5 million viewers per night. So then let's say, on average, NBC was 2.5 million viewers down per night at 10pm.
Keep in mind that it's commonly accepted by the NBC brass that local NBC affiliates have experienced a drop in late local news ratings because of the poor lead-in numbers of The Jay Leno Show. This has been publicly stated on numerous occasions.
Leno's version of the Tonight Show averaged 5.7 million viewers a night. Conan's, before all this controversy, averaged 2.94 million viewers. So on average, Conan's down 2.7 million viewers from his predecessor.
Like I said, I'm no TV executive or anything, but this seems pretty obvious to me. Losing viewers at 10pm means those viewers aren't coming back at 11:30. If The Jay Leno Show is costing local affiliates their ratings, and local affiliates were screaming that it was, then those lower local ratings are costing The Tonight Show ratings.
Simple, isn't it? How come I can understand this?