Critics may have hated it, but Monday's premiere of "The Jay Leno Show" got a warm reception from viewers.
Thanks in part to a newsworthy appearance from rapper Kanye West -- who drew widespread scorn for his behavior during the MTV Video Music Awards the previous night -- the former "Tonight Show" host's 10 p.m. comedy-variety show drew a surprisingly large crowd of 18.4 million total viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. That's more than three times what he averaged on "The Tonight Show."
Among the key demographic of viewers aged 18 to 49, "Leno" scored a 5.3 rating/14 share, easily the night's top-rated program. It was NBC's most-watched program in the time period since last year's Summer Olympics.
The launch was a coup for the network, which embarked on a controversial experiment to replace the expensive scripted dramas that usually air at 10 p.m. with a cheaper alternative. "The Jay Leno Show" is estimated to cost about $100 million per year, or roughly one-third of what broadcasters typically spend airing dramas during that time slot.
But Leno's show faces tough hurdles ahead. The audience will likely drop significantly as the curiosity factor wears off in coming days. Next week, the new TV season officially begins, and Leno will compete against fresh episodes of popular series, including the Season 8 premiere of CBS' "CSI: Miami."
On his first outing, Leno performed the monologue and headline segments familiar to "Tonight" viewers. He also welcomed comic Jerry Seinfeld as well as West, who apologized for his widely panned interruption of country singer Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the VMAs.
But Leno's new project left at least one group cold: TV reviewers. Many found "The Jay Leno Show" too similar to "Tonight," which Leno left in May.
USA Today dismissed the show as a "cut-rate, snooze-inducing, rehashed bore."
In The Times, Mary McNamara asked: "This is the future of television? This wasn't even a good rendition of television past."