Nikki Finke, who has been all over the strike story at her dishy blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, was first to post the Nielsen overnights from Wednesdays talk show returns. They show U.S. audiences did flock back to late night leader Jay Leno first to see how he would fare without his writers:

Says Finke, “early ratings for late night TV’s return show that Jay scored a 5.3 rating and 12 audience share in the nation’s 55 largest markets for his best ratings in two years, according to Nielsen Media Research. Leno’s ratings were up 47% over what he achieved before the strike. David Letterman’s Late Show had a 4.3 rating and 10 share, or 39% better than his pre-strike average. I don’t find this surprising, since Leno had been consistently beating Letterman for years and TV viewing habits don’t change overnight. Plus, there was the “car wreck” phenomenon at work and audiences may have wanted to watch how The Tonight Show would fare without writers.”
Look for Leno to continue to defy the WGA and deliver his standard joke filled monologue. Finke also reports that Leno met with WGA West president Patric Verrone prior to his return last night and felt he had a tacit agreement from the union boss to do his usual stand up shtick. The WGA seems to have officially denied there was any special deal in a statement today, but count on Leno to do whatever the hell he wants–especially if it keeps him ahead of Letterman in the ratings race.

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