Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jay Xed

Late word from NBC is that Jay Leno's prime time talk show has been canceled, and it will air its last show next month. Its time slot will be temporarily filled by Winter Olympics coverage from Vancouver, which will likely result in lower ratings for that slot.
Perhaps they have have some dramas to fill the 10 PM Eastern time slot after the Vancouver Games are done, but NBC still has the aftermath of this failed late-night talk show experiment to sort out. With Leno out of prime time and O'Brien in worse shape by actually still being on the air, and with everyone having acknowledging that Leno should have been left on "The Tonight Show," how does NBC right itself without doing more short-term damage?
Simple - it can't. NBC's troubles with late-night talk began, interestingly enough, with an emphasis at short-term ratings and the expense of long-term thinking. They were in a rush to drop Jay Leno in 2004 when his ratings slipped against Letterman at CBS, but when his ratings improved as it came time for him to relinquish "The Tonight Show" to O'Brien, the network bent over backwards to keep Leno from moving to ABC. They still hoped to keep Conan O'Brien and somehow thought that late-night talk overkill would be the way out of last place in the overall ratings. The damage has been so great from this experiment that, if either comedian chose to leave NBC now, he would re-enter the job market with less heat than before. How is it that ABC is owned by Disney, yet NBC is acting like a Mickey Mouse operation?
Oh yeah, the bottom line. That was actually the best part of Leno's prime time show; it was actually making money for the network, despite its low ratings, because it was so cheap to produce and air. But its poor performance with Mr. Nielsen and company affected the local news reports of the affiliates that followed Jay Leno in numerous regional markets. I'm no media economist, but, if I'm not mistaken, that makes advertising time on NBC in the 10 PM Eastern slot less valuable. in fact, some affiliates had threatened to air the local news at 10 PM Eastern / 9 PM Central and then air Leno's show afterwards, which would have made selling advertising time really difficult for the network.
The idea now is to move Leno to 11:35 Eastern for a half-hour show, followed by O'Brien at 12:05 AM Eastern, with Jimmy Fallon remaining at "Late Night." This is supposedly to keep both Leno and O'Brien and avoid bruised egos, but does NBC do that when they're halving the running times of both the Leno and O'Brien shows? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the television equivalent of "troubled assets."

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