Leno takes late night crown on Wednesday

Amidst the on-going writers strike, Jay Leno topped all other late night hosts in the ratings on their first night back.

Leno’s Tonight Show drew 7.2 million viewers, followed by David Letterman’s Late Show with 5.5 million viewers, Conan O’Brien’s Late Night with 2.8 million viewers, Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show with 2.2 million and, at the bottom of the pack, Jimmy Kimmel’s Live with 1.75 million.

All shows were up from their pre-strike average — except Kimmel, who was down by 5 percent.

Only the Letterman and Ferguson shows had the benefit of a writing staff upon their returns. Letterman’s production company produces both shows independently and struck a deal with the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

Contentiously, unlike O’Brien or Kimmel, Leno delivered an opening monologue that he wrote himself. The WGA condemned Leno (who is also a WGA member) by releasing a statement that noted, “…writing for The Tonight Show constitutes a violation of the Guild’s strike rules.”

NBC disagreed with the WGA in a statement. “The WGA agreement permits Jay Leno to write his own monologue for The Tonight Show. The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studio and the WGA.”

The writers’ strike began on Nov. 5, 2006 and almost immediately put a halt to all television and film productions in the U.S.