Conan O'Brien is about to be out of a job, and his bitter cracks on NBC execs are doing what his show did not—viewership has soared. O'Brien's ratings have been rising through the week, and Tonight ratings Friday were 50% higher than they've been this season. O'Brien beat out Letterman, according to a preliminary Nielsen estimate, and in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that NBC relies on to set advertising prices, O'Brien even beat Leno's primetime show.
Settlement talks continued yesterday on a deal that would let O'Brien leave NBC and restore Leno to the 11:35pm time slot, but O'Brien's team sees the ratings as vindication. His manager yesterday compared it to when Leno, trailing Letterman in the mid-1990s, passed him decisively after the memorable appearance of Hugh Grant after his arrest. Leno averaged 5.2 million viewers per night on his last season on Tonight. O'Brien is averaging 2.5 million this season. (Read more Conan O'Brien stories.)