Jay Leno: Us & Them and Why the Real 10pm King-Maker Is Now NCIS

Categories: Broadcast TV,Featured

Written By

January 8th, 2010

With apologies to Pink Floyd, when it comes to the "Us and Them" surrounding Jay Leno, it's pretty clear which is which and who is who.  And it's a bit uncomfortable for, well, us. Particularly me.  I'm not talking about the situation where (as of this writing) on or shortly after January 21,  Bill and I will perhaps be sharpening our knives to feast on a big plate of crow.

We said Jay Leno wouldn't be canceled this TV season, and wouldn't be shortened to less than 5 days, this TV season.  We won't try to wriggle out of our crow on a technicality should Leno move back to 11:30p five days a week as is currently being considered.

No, what I'm talking about is even sort of being on the side of NBC and Jeff Zucker to begin with.  I don't watch Leno (I did watch a bit of the premiere and video clips on the Internet here and there).  On top of that, I actually am a huge fan and consumer of scripted content.  Nonetheless "us" looks like Leno kind of making sense.

US = "Thinking throwing in the towel might not be such an awful idea"

  • -NBC was failing miserably launching new shows (not just at 10pm, but anywhere)
  • -failing miserably is very expensive
  • -why pay a lot for crappy ratings when you can pay a lot less for the same crappy ratings
  • -if throwing in the towel means saving money  and keeping Leno from going to a rival network, maybe it's not such an awful idea

Them =  Jay Leno Five Nights a Week = JEFF ZUCKER IS SATAN!

  • You're killing scripted shows
  • You're killing scripted shows
  • You're killing scripted shows
  • I like scripted shows and don't want to see them killed (whether you're a fan, or involved with creating scripted shows)
  • JEFF ZUCKER IS SATAN!

As a fan, I would certainly prefer more scripted, but given that NBC was already a disaster, being a disaster that at least managed costs (and also kept Jay Leno from going to a rival network) made some sense.

In retrospect, of course NBC screwed up by getting rid of Leno at 11:30pm to begin with

In 2009, you could have talked all you wanted about what dopes NBC was with its broadcast network and how it had screwed up to begin with by deciding years ahead of time an exit strategy for a Jay Leno who really didn't want to go.  But by 2009 that ship had sailed, the damage was done, etc.

How Might Conan Have Done IF...

If it goes down that Jay gets 11:30pm and "The Tonight Show"  back, it will be concluded, particularly with Conan fans, that Conan never really got a fair shot at 11:30pm.   People, likely including Conan, will forever wonder how might Conan have done if he'd have taken over the Tonight Show and there was no Jay Leno at 10pm (and if you want to go pure fantasy league, if NBC had well performing scripted shows airing at 10pm leading into news programming that lead-in to the Tonight Show.

It's Hard To Launch Successful  Broadcast Scripted Shows at 10pm

It really is.  For anyone but CBS.  FOX can take all the potshots at NBC it wants and if Kevin Reilly and others at FOX are not fans of NBC, we totally understand.  But the bottom line is it doesn't program 10pm.  ABC, CBS and NBC do.

With increased DVR penetration, it's getting even harder to launch a 10pm show on a broadcast network where you're hoping for a 3+ rating with adults 18-49.  Understandably, more 10pm scripted shows are DVRd for later viewing.

Only CBS has any recent track record of doing it well.  That, so far, largely seems to be on the strength of CSI spinoffs that are holding up well and things launched out of NCIS.  Sure, The Mentalist might not be pulling the same numbers it pulled last year out of NCIS, but how might it be doing if it had just tried to launch out of CSI to begin with?  Perhaps not nearly as well.

NCIS Is Giving CBS More Options; But Other Networks Don't Have an NCIS

CBS might be able to launch the next crop of shows successfully before the CSI spinoffs and NCIS get too long in tooth (indeed, NCIS  is going stronger than ever).  This gives CBS options.  Kind of like what it did with The Mentalist, it could potentially move NCIS: LA to 10pm somewhere next year.  That's probably a tough sell since NCIS and NCIS: LA go together so well.  But I can't help wonder how The Good Wife would do if CBS aired it out of NCIS next year to build a bigger following and perhaps ultimately move it back to 10pm the following year.

Of course,  most shows, especially shows on other networks, would love to have an audience as large as NCIS: LA as a lead-in.   And on any other network The Good Wife's performance would be labeled a 10pm success, but at CBS it is performing slightly below average.

It's Hard To Launch Successful  Broadcast Scripted Shows at 10pm

I'm saying this again, because, well name a show that has launched at 10pm in the last couple of years that has been a success? You can claim The Mentalist, though it didn't launch at 10pm, and you could claim Private Practice, though it didn't find its footing until airing out of Grey's at 10pm (it aired Wednesdays at 9pm before that).  Looks like neither of the recent 10pm successes actually launched at 10pm.

So in recent history, that leaves The Good Wife on CBS and Castle on ABC.   Both shows could be renewed, but by the standards of the networks they air on they are performing a bit under average.

Them: Leno Canceled = a great victory for scripted content!

This conversation is already happening.  Writers, producers, fans of scripted content (and ok, Leno haters) are fist-bumping.  If and when the rumors become reality it will be hailed as a great victory for scripted content.

But is it?

Time will tell.  Certainly for the remainder of this season it wouldn't be a great victory.  It's not like NBC has five NEW hours of scripted content a week outside of the scripted shows it had already penned into the schedule.  I'm not sure there will be even one additional scripted show this season.

A victory for the affiliates this season perhaps if NBC reshuffles its deck to move more scripted content (plus an hour of the Biggest Loser) to 10pm, but that's a reshuffle that adds no new scripted content.

As for next year, if NBC winds up with 5 more hours of scripted content than it had this year, or even three or four, it's hard to see that as anything but a plus for people involved with scripted.

But what if it's one extra hour, or no extra hours and they just move more of the scripted content that would've aired at 8pm or 9pm to 10pm, and back fill with unscripted?

Stripping Jay Leno 5 Nights A Week Served As a Magnifying Glass

Perhaps just because it was much easier to see by stripping Leno five nights a week.  The issue never seemed to me to be about scripted vs. unscripted.  Not really.   If NBC had the exact same amount of scripted content as it has this year, but didn't strip 10pm,  I'm certain we wouldn't have heard nearly as much about this.

What if next year NBC adds two hours of scripted, but...ABC loses two hours?

That seems like a very real possibility.  If it goes down like that, of course, the net effect for scripted shows would be 0.   Strangely,  where there was outrage about Leno,  if the net effect for scripted vs. unscripted is zero even if Leno is out of primetime,  I don't think anyone is going to be outraged by it.

I understand the local affiliates reaction, but I wonder if everyone else is just kidding themselves.

That the local affiliates were not happy with having a worse lead-in for local makes complete sense.  Although any switch during the current TV season will likely only be a reshuffling that improves the lead-in to local news a couple of nights a week.  It could be a case where the affiliates win the battle, but ultimately lose the war anyway. Because it's really hard to launch successful shows at 10pm, and guess what?

Next season it will be even harder.


 
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