The loss of “The Tonight Show” to Jay Leno in 1992 came not only to define David Letterman the man but also the slow-motion collapse of a career defined by Letterman’s anger and bitterness over the loss. Leno not only won Carson’s seat, for over two decades he went on to trounce Letterman in the ratings.
Their rivalry was bitter, nasty, and highly personal.
Thursday, in one final insult, Letterman’s much ballyhooed farewell show came up about a million viewers short of Leno’s 2014 “Tonight Show” send-off:
Though Mr. Letterman had a huge influence in the culture, he mostly trailed his 11:30 rivals in the ratings. He consistently drew lower ratings than Jay Leno on NBC’s “The Tonight Show’’ and on Wednesday he fell short one last time: Mr. Leno’s finale on “The Tonight Show” in February 2014 attracted 14.6 million viewers, almost a million more than Mr. Letterman’s did.
In other news, CBS is filling Letterman’s time-slot, not with Letterman reruns, but reruns of “The Mentalist.”
All the media elite, all the celebrity juice, and months worth of ballyhoo, couldn’t put Letterman over the top … not even just this once.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC