Leno the Ratings Champ over Letterman

updated 06/03/2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/03/2003 3:01PM

Last month's stunt of having Katie Couric sit in for Jay Leno may have boosted the ratings of NBC's "Tonight Show," but as it turns out, no help was needed: Jay Leno's ratings are putting rival David Letterman's to shame.

In an analysis of the late-night numbers, the New York Post reports that Leno is crushing Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS by more than 60 percent among the highly coveted viewer demographic of 18- to 49-year-olds. That's the widest margin in four years, says the paper.

Last month, Leno claimed 6.3 million viewers vs. Letterman's 4 million. The Post says this trend basically has been in effect for eight years. (Meanwhile, Leno's annual salary is $17 million, while Letterman's is $31.5 million.)

"Leno just has a broader appeal than Letterman," Tom DeCabia, an industry analyst with the New York media-buying firm PHD, tells the paper.

"Letterman has such a sharper wit compared to Leno," said DeCabria, echoing the sentiment of most TV critics. "He can get a guest to feel very uncomfortable very quickly. That is why Letterman is who he is, but it limits his appeal across the board."

While there are those who think Letterman, 56, is "too New York" (especially compared to the laid-back class-clown antics of Leno, 53), the New York ratings bear out that the city is -- surprisingly -- very much like the rest of the country in its late-night viewing habits.

Last month, according to the Post, about 299,000 New Yorkers watched the Burbank-based Leno, while only 197,000 tuned in for Letterman.

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