Millions of fans who enjoyed the late night antics of David Letterman over the years returned Wednesday night as the iconic host signed off following a 33-year run.
Nielsen won’t issue total-viewer estimates until later today, but early indications are that the show drew its largest audience in more than nine years. In Nielsen’s metered-market overnights, Wednesday’s finale of CBS’ “The Late Show with David Letterman” averaged a big 9.3 household rating/24 share — the program’s top score since an appearance by Oprah Winfrey in December 2005 delivered a 10.1/24.
Driving the strong performance last night was a big 11.8 rating/29 share in New York. The nearly 90-minute finale also did a 6.4/22 in Los Angeles and a 12.2/27 in Chicago.
The 9.3 national overnight rating is on par with the 9.2 generated for Jay Leno’s sendoff from NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in February 2014. That translated into 14.64 million viewers in the nationals.
It’s likely that Wednesday’s finale will have drawn among the three or four largest audiences ever for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Its previous high came in February 1994 when 15.5 million watched at the height of the network’s coverage of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding Olympics controversy. The show’s series premiere in August 1993 was the only other telecast to have topped 15 million (15.205 million).
“Late Show” had been building its audience prior to the finale, with Letterman’s penultimate full week averaging 3.82 million viewers, the show’s largest since 2011. And then on Monday of this week, it hit a five year-high in the overnights (4.1 household rating/11 share), followed by a six-year high on Tuesday (4.9/12) with guests Bill Murray and Bob Dylan.