Jay Leno Crowned King of NBC: Winners and Losers

BlogHer Original Post

If you're a Jay Leno fan, NBC just gave you an extra hour and a half of sleep.  If you're not a Jay Leno fan, NBC just cut you out of about 23% of their primetime schedule.  That's because today NBC announced that comedian Jay Leno has cut a deal to do a show, suspiciously like his current "Tonight Show" in primetime at 10 PM.  And here's the kicker, five nights a week.  That means next fall, Jay Leno will be the King of NBC.

A few months ago all of us in TV circles were wringing our hands wondering why NBC was being so dumb letting Leno getaway.  How would they survive?  And what would poor Jay do, rambling around that big garage stocked with expensive classic cars, dreaming of past late night glory?

Well now we know.

Broadcasting and Cable covered today's press conference and highlighted NBC's financial motives:

It will also save NBC Universal about $13 million a week in programming costs, enabling the network to abandon scripted programming at 10 p.m., an hour where viewership has been steadily dropping.

"Part of what is great about this is it allows us to concentrate all of our development (in the 8 and 9 p.m. hours)," said Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBCU and UMS. "We're really excited about being able to concentrate that firepower."

Time Magazine's TV critic James Poniewozik thinks this is all part of a bigger plan of downsizing by NBC:

Leno would relieve NBC of the responsibility to program at 10 p.m---a time when network hits have been few and cable networks have stepped in.

NBC, like the other big networks—and other big media, including
newspapers and magazines—simply has to learn to get smaller. Think of
it as de-leveraging, network-style. In an environment of cable,  fewer
viewers per network and less easily-found revenue, mounting big-budget
entertainment three hours a night is less and less viable.  

Some of those 10 PM cable shows Poniewozik refers to are shows like "Leverage," "Nip/Tuck," "The Closer," "Rescue Me," "Mad Men," and "The Shield." 

It's not like NBC hasn't tried this before. During the big magazine show boom of the late 1990's, they programmed the news magazine "Dateline" five nights a week.  In addition, there was  "20/20" and "Primetime Live" on ABC three nights a week and CBS had "60 Minutes II" and "48
Hours."  Like now with Leno, magazine shows were seen as
cheap alternatives to those nasty scripted programs that require
temperamental actors, pesky writers, power grabbing producers and show runners that want creative control.  But viewers eventually got tired of the same old thing and that's when "Survivor" and the reality show boom began. 

It remains to be seen if that happens to Leno, but he does have an advantage:  a built in audience that will probably follow him to primetime.

Spare a thought for poor Conan O'Brien though.  It's kind of like Prince Charles being teased with the idea that his mother Queen Elizabeth might abdicate and give him the thrown.  Well she ain't goin' anywhere and now we know neither is Leno.  O'Brien's got to be just a tad upset that instead of being heir apparent to the late night kingdom, he's now been relegated to the royal children's table.

Personally, I've never been much of a late night watcher.  I've always thought Leno was funnier before he took over the "Tonight Show," and I can only take Letterman in small doses, though I've developed more of a tolerance for him in recent years.  Jimmy Kimmel seems too much like every guy I never wanted to date in college and Conan O'Brien?  Howdy Doody in a suit. 

Who Are The Other Winners and Losers?

Winners

NBC:  They keep Leno, they don't have to program 10 PM with those aforementioned pesky creative types and they get to save a whole bunch of money.  And no matter how many viewers Leno draws, NBC is going to be able to spin the move as a success.  If he gets two more viewers than he does at 11:35 then he'll be "the biggest hit since primetime was created."  If he lands in the basement, NBC can bide their time and try and make up some viewers when the scripted shows are in reruns. 

Jay Leno:  He gets to stay where he's comfortable and he might pick up some viewers who are usually asleep at 11:35.   After all, those "Dirty, Sexy, Money" and "Boston Legal" viewers have to have somewhere to go.

David Letterman:  Dave now has more to grin about.  His biggest competitor is gone and it's going to take Conan awhile to build his show into a threat, if he ever does.

Jimmy Kimmel:  He's carved out a nice little niche for himself after "Nightline" and like the competition between Conan and Letterman, it's going to take Jimmy Fallon, the new host of "Late Night" some time to become solid competition, if he ever does.

Craig Ferguson:  Otherwise known as that Scottish guy who's on in the middle of the night, he's got the same advantage Jimmy Kimmel does.  

"Nightline:"  At one point, "Nightline" was faced with extinction if Jay Leno went to ABC but for now they appear safe.

ABC and CBS:  They get to sit back and let NBC be the guinea pig in this big old network gamble.  

Losers

NBC:  They're in fourth place and in the short run, they reinforce their image as being incapable of producing hit shows. 

Conan O'Brien:  Conan's guest bookers' jobs just got harder.  All those A-list guests Conan would have inherited from Jay are now going to stay with Jay.  Conan's going to get the leftovers.

Jimmy Fallon:  As the total newcomer to the late night wars, Fallon may get left out in the cold, but NBC's already trying to get viewers excited about the new "Late Night" by posting video blogs with Fallon every night at 12:35 AM on NBC.com.   You can check out the first courtesy of Give Me My Remote.

Local 10PM News Shows:  The latest stories on dirty restaurant kitchens and shady home improvement contractors aren't going to be able to compete with Halle Berry in Jay Leno's guest chair.

Shawna, at Shouting Into The Wind is a "screenwriter by night" and is very unhappy at the loss of scripted shows:

I am not typically a doomsayer, but this does not bode well. This might actually pay off for them.

On any given night Leno pulls almost 5 million viewers at 11:35 PM. If he doubles that audience, which he should, that immediately gives NBC better ratings on 3 of 5 nights of the week than they have right now with scripted one-hour dramas.

Pop Culture Kitty agrees:

I'm far from happy about this news. I'm glad for Leno but I think losing five hours of scripted shows is the last thing the TV landscape needs.

The My Take On TV blog chooses to view the situation a little differently:

While some people might cry foul on the part of NBC, I am in the "minority," believing that this could actually turn out to work in their favor (since they don't seem to have a very creative group of people doing the work these days). 

What do you think?  Are you a Leno fan?  Conan fan?  Letterman fan?  Couldn't care less?   Don't be shy, let fly.

 

Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television and Online Video and she thinks this new primetime battle starring Jay Leno will be fascinating.  Megan's other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock, and Video Runway.

 

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