By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Nov 11, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Conan O'Brien's new TBS show debuted this week to big ratings, beating both Jay Leno and David Letterman.

But his audience was about a third smaller on the second night, and that offers a good primer in understanding TV ratings.

Often, you'll hear networks crowing about "the biggest hit of the new TV season" the day after a show premieres.

Ignore all that hype and wait a while before you declare him a success or a failure.

Of course O'Brien's first night drew 4.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research numbers. He's been the subject of nine months of interest after NBC took away his "Tonight Show" gig and gave it Leno, after his prime-time show flopped. You had to expect a big opening night crowd.

And, also of course, his second night audience was down. At 2.8 million, it was still a healthy crowd for a cable talk show. And it's likely to continue to go down.

In fact, it's not even worth counting for a few weeks, until the show settles into its new spot.

If Conan can stick to 2 million a night, he'll be a success. But because of the much larger crowd watching late newscasts on NBC affiliates, it's likely Leno will beat Conan regularly.

Since he took back O'Brien's "The Tonight Show" slot, the race has been closer with Letterman on CBS.

Another player in all this is Comedy Central's 10 p.m. hour featuring Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report." It's target audience is similar to O'Brien's, with a focus on viewers younger than "The Tonight Show" or "The Late Show" crowd.

The lesson in all this is the lesson of modern TV.

As choices multiply, there is no single heir to Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show." And there never will be again.

On TV: Former CNN lightning rod Lou Dobbs has signed a deal with Fox Business Network. He'll host a daily show starting early next year.

  • NBC's "Undercovers" is the latest fatality of the season. It'll end after its 13-episode run.
  • Turning to Fox, Will Arnett tweeted this week that his "Running Wilde" isn't canceled, "we're simply in limbo."
  • Milwaukee hamburger spot A.J. Bombers gets another Travel Channel airing in a new show, "The Best Places I've Ever Been," scheduled for Dec. 8.
  • Former "Access Hollywood" co-host Nancy O'Dell will replace Mary Hart on "Entertainment Tonight" next fall. She joins the show as a "special correspondent" in January.
  • Fox is adding a new game show, "Million Dollar Money Drop," to its schedule on four consecutive nights starting Dec. 20.
  • NBC has given "Days of Our Lives" a longer life, re-upping it through September 2013. It debuted 45 years ago.
  • Billy Ray Cyrus is getting a new TLC show, "Homecoming," a "reality" show about surprise military homecomings. It'll premiere this spring.
  • George W. Bush's book tour continues tonight, with the former president selling his book to Bill O'Reilly at 7 p.m. on Fox News Channel.
  • CNN's Bush interview airs in a one-hour special hosted by Candy Crowley at 7 and 10 p.m. Sunday. It'll feature former first brother Jeb Bush as well.
  • Movie reviewer Gene Shalit formally ended his 40-year run on NBC's "Today" this morning.

Scarlett Johansson hosts "SNL": No, it's not easy to judge how good an installment of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" will be just based on the promos. But I have to say that this weekend's host, Scarlett Johansson, and Jason Sudeikis look pretty darn funny in these clips:


Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.