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It seems that not everyone in the NBC corporate family is 100% on board with the new Jay Leno show concept.
As I reported back in December, Jay Leno is moving to 10 PM EST, which places him in a prime time slot and before the nightly news for affiliates. This move was made as a way to keep Leno from jumping ship to another network when Conan O’Brien takes over hosting duties on The Tonight Show in June, but it is also an attempt by NBC to try something new in the hopes it will pull them out of being the fourth in ratings of the big four networks. (Yes, former joke network Fox has moved to second place even)
Well, it seems it is just more than people such as myself that are questioning the wisdom of this move as WHDH, the Boston, MA NBC affiliate, has opted not to air the show. Instead of airing the oddly formatted show for the time slot, WHDH management has chosen that they will air an hour of news during that hour instead. Their fear is that the Leno show will not work out in the time slot and could lead to lower ratings for their news broadcast that airs at the traditional 11 PM EST slot.
Coming as no big surprise, NBC is furious over this decision. Not only is Boston Jay Leno’s hometown, but it is one of the 10 biggest television markets in the country. The network is saying the station is violation of their contract, although the station’s lawyer’s say they aren’t. The peacock network is also saying that this could lead to them yanking the station’s license and either starting their own company owned station (which they actually already have a license for) or possibly going to another station in the market and looking to convert them to NBC.
So with this hanging over their head, why would WHDH take on their corporate overlords? Well, Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood sums it up succicently, as she always seems to do:
Because few of the NBC affiliates get a substantial boost from NBC’s primetime offerings because of the low ratings. Even NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker has admitted that the network-affiliate relationship is overdue for an overhaul. But don’t for a minute think the affiliates’ first-choice scenario isn’t for the network to finally deliver some primetime hits. Instead, NBC is giving up on even trying to program for high ratings.
The result is that when the new 2009-2010 schedule debuts in September, Leno’s show from Day One will be rated lower than anything on NBC’s primetime even now. But that doesn’t matter according to NBC Universal’s controversial philosophy of “managing for margins, not ratings”. Estimates are that Leno 2.0 may only cost $2M a week and result in 46 weeks of original shows, compared to the average $3 million per episode pricetag of scripted primetime dramas that air on average 22 original weekly episodes. But the 58-year-old attracts only 4.8 million viewers now on The Tonight Show — measly by primetime standards, especially in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic. The affiliates know that expanded local news or local ballgames might hit a higher number than Leno or NBC’s weaker nights — which is no doubt why WHDH made the decision it did.
In short, this Leno move is good for the NBC corporate heads, and no one else. The idea that he will magically attract more than his current 4.8 million viewers is laughable, and the fact that NBC is foisting this off on their stations as a positive move is insulting. I say kudos to WHBH for calling them on it, and I would certainly hope some others might do the same, but if NBC is to be believed, no other stations or even raising questions at this time.
What I find incredibly sad, and going by what Ms. Finke wrote, it seems NBC has just shrugged their shoulders and gone “Well, we suck now, might as well aim low.” Networks have always traded off the lead spot in the ratings, and while yes it may be embaressing that you are in fourth, that doesn’t mean you just throw in the towel and try to go for the most cost effective ratings possible. Just as WHDH has a contract with you, you have an agreement with them to deliver quality programming, and simply moving Jay Leno to the slot before the news instead of after it does not qualify as “quality programming”.
I for one stand by WHDH for what its worth. NBC has made what I feel is going to go down is one of the biggest programming blunders in history and will only be labeled a “success” due to the low cost versus the return. The affiliates are going to lose an hour of the sort of advertising rates they got from shows like ER, even in its handicapped final seasons, and that will be a massive hurt to stations already hurting in a down economy.
Good on you, WHDH, keep up the good fight.