Variety proliferates Jay Leno Show "what-if" theories

Categories: 1-Featured,Broadcast TV

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September 13th, 2009

Jay-Leno-Show

There wasn't anything new in the latest story in Variety focusing on The Jay Leno Show in primetime, though it was a good recap of a lot the discussion points.  As a bonus they proliferated some of the "what if" scenario theories that Bill and I both find pretty nutty:

On the flip side, if "Leno" is considered a bust, the first seeds of discontent might be sown at the affiliate level -- particularly if their 11 p.m. newscasts take a huge hit during the November sweeps.

NBC managed to quickly shut down Boston affiliate WHDH's attempt to preempt "Leno" with a 10 p.m. newscast. But if it becomes a real revolution, the Peacock might have a hard time containing its affils.

At that point, some execs -- including former NBC entertainment prexy Garth Ancier, now head of BBC Worldwide America -- predict Peacock execs may give stations the 10 p.m. slot for their local news and air "Jay Leno" at 10:30 instead, straight into "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."

Unless NBC is of the mind "we make our 10pm with Jay Leno, or we give up on the hour completely like FOX,"  I see little chance of something like that happening.    Besides, Leno's ratings will have to noticeably worse than NBC did in primetime last year for the affiliates to have a legitimate beef.  Last year, besides Law & Order: SVU, and some of the episodes of ER leading up to its season finale, it's not like it was doing so hot at 10pm!

Once you give the local affiliates 10pm, getting it back would be very difficult.   It's also not something that can be executed with a couple of phone calls either, it would take some time to plan that. Not to mention that such an approach seems even worse for The Tonight Show with Conan than having Leno on at 10pm.   I think they'll stick with Leno at 10pm all season regardless of the ratings, but I'd think "Sorry, Conan, we're putting Jay back on The Tonight Show" is a more likely outcome than NBC giving the affiliates 10pm.

Some rivals also expect NBC to cut back "The Jay Leno Show" to three nights a week if it's having ratings troubles. In that scenario, the net might bring back scripted fare to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But Leno (whose deal with NBC spans two years) himself has said that's a non-starter. It's pretty much five days or nothing for Leno, who appears ready to throw in the towel altogether if this experiment is a dud.

Who are these rivals who think this?  I find this theory wackiest of them all.

As noted by Bill and others, the cost to do The Jay Leno Show for three nights a week wouldn't really be any less than doing it for five nights.  Since a lot of the motivation for Leno in primetime was cost savings, such an approach doesn't make much sense.

"Well, OK, we'll move Law & Order: SVU to 10pm one night, and we'll find a hit show for another night to make the local affiliates happy..."   Again, who are the rivals who expect this?

Then there's the possibility that "The Jay Leno Show" is a hit -- but everything else around it, including "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" and the rest of primetime, collapses.

"NBC is a network that has said nobody watches at 8 o'clock," one exec said. "They're airing only eight hours of scripted programming this fall. They could find that the whole thing just falls apart. What if local news falls apart, Conan's hurt, and the only thing working for them is Jay Leno?"

I understand some of the thinking that produces the blurb above, but not all of it, and I think it confuses some things that aren't related.   There's a chance that The Jay Leno Show could be successful at Conan's expense.   I'm not sure that's the case, but at least I understand the thinking.

But "what if The Jay Leno Show succeeds and everything else collapses?"  With rare exception, 10pm wasn't a big deal for NBC last year.

Sunday Night Football isn't going to collapse.  I can see  The Biggest Loser and Law & Order: SVU having normal ratings erosion, but a complete collapse?   Is The Office going to do worse at 9pm on Thursdays because Jay Leno is in primetime?

We'll know a lot more in a couple of months after the hoopla settles down.   Barring sub 1.3 adults 18-49 demo averages, I expect Leno to air in primetime all season regardless of the ratings, with no schedule cutbacks, or givebacks of the 10p-10:30p half hour to local affiliates.

There are a lot of people rooting for this show to fail, so it could be that we see more conspiracies if the show is doing reasonably OK (adults 18-49 rating of 1.5 or better) than if it does worse.    In theory,  if the show is doing a 2.0 adults 18-49 rating or better, we shouldn't hear anything at all about unhappy affiliates.

But in this case, as the people who are against Leno succeeding in primetime work their media connections, we might actually hear more about unhappy (but unnamed) affiliates and more wacky theories and expectations from (unnamed) rival executives if the show is doing reasonably well!

 
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