David Letterman frequently fared better in Buffalo than Jay Leno.
At the end of Leno’s run two months ago, Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner gave as good an explanation as any about the late-night competition here.
“Even though Jay is from Boston, he plays more to Middle America, and even though Dave is from Middle America, he plays more East Coast.”
Letterman’s announcement Thursday that he will retire as host of “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS in 2015 means that Western New Yorkers who once pledged allegiance to Dave over Jay will have to decide where to go for their late-night comedy fix.
If you want an indication of how much Western New York will miss the host known to his fans simply as “Dave,” all you have to do is look at this week’s local ratings, where Letterman continues to beat the NBC competition.
For the first three nights of this week, Letterman’s show on Channel 4 dominated Jimmy Fallon’s new, critically acclaimed version of “The Tonight Show” on Channel 2, 4.7 to 3.4, in household ratings.
Of course, Western New York is an older market, and Fallon’s show – which has had twice as many viewers nationally since his show premiered Feb. 17 – attracts younger viewers who are more attractive to advertisers. But the local figures indicate that Letterman has survived the early positive reviews for Fallon quite nicely here.
Letterman has always done much better ratingswise here than he has done nationally when Leno was the “Tonight” host and dominated late night nationally.
Letterman won in households and demographics for five years until November of 2008.
In 2013, he was the narrow winner in households here, while Leno had a slight victory margin in demographics.
Letterman isn’t the kind of guy who tries to ingratiate himself with audiences. Leno went out of his way even this week to say positive things about Buffalo prior to an appearance in the Seneca Niagara Casino Events Center. Letterman, on the other hand, had fun at the area’s expense when his alma mater, Ball State University, lost the Mid-American football championship to the University at Buffalo in 2008.
Letterman had then-Ball State football coach Brady Hoke on the show to read the host’s “Top 10 List” before poking fun at the team that beat his alma mater.
“University of Buffalo, I’m sorry I didn’t know there was a University of Buffalo. And don’t take that the wrong way, by the way,” Letterman said.
He noted that a close call went UB’s way and added: “But I don’t want to take anything away from those Buffalo kids, many of whom can’t spell ‘Buffalo.’ That was a joke.”
Western New York forgave him for the UB jokes, and audiences here also saw him survive a heart attack and a sex scandal.
“If you know anything about me, I’m motivated by nothing but guilt,” he said on the show in which he addressed the scandal. “I’m just a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt.”
However, age apparently has caught up with him as it did with Leno. Letterman, 66, is facing two relative youngsters in late-night in ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s Fallon. Fallon started his late-night career on NBC on “Saturday Night Live” before moving to the “Late Night” show that first made Letterman famous.
Fallon’s eighth-grade yearbook predicted he would take Letterman’s time slot someday. But who would have predicted that Fallon’s eventual move to “The Tonight Show” would eventually play into Letterman’s planned retirement?
Now the question is, who will replace Letterman?
In 2008, before Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” made an appearance at Letterman’s beloved UB, he was asked in a telephone interview if he would take Letterman’s place on “The Late Show” if he ever retired.
“Listen, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing tomorrow,” Stewart said back them. “I’m a terrible long-range planner.”
CBS and Comedy Central have the same owner. Dave shouldn’t take this the wrong way, but Stewart deserved the job years ago and it still should be his if he wants it.