Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's A Crazy Idea, But It Just Might Fail

The premiere of "The Jay Leno Show" was a ratings dynamo Monday, outdelivering the host's "Tonight Show" finale in May by about 50% and standing as the night's No. 1 program.

According to Nielsen preliminary estimates, "Jay Leno," whose premiere night guest was Jerry Seinfeld, averaged a 5.1 rating/13 share in adults 18-49 and 17.7 million viewers overall during the 10 o'clock hour. This is a larger audience than any episode of an NBC series from last season, and the best overall for NBC in the timeslot since the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

By comparison, Leno's swan-song on "The Tonight Show" averaged a 3.4 rating in 18-49 and 11.9 million viewers overall

A big premiere rating was expected, but it will probably take a few weeks to see where the show's number settles, or what kind of a local news lead-in it provides for the network's affiliates. The 5.1 rating is a bit above industry expectations for the premiere and is about three times what NBC has said it could do on an annual basis to generate a profit.

- Daily Variety

The Leno Show is an audacious idea in programming, if you equate cheapness with audaciousness. At the root of this 5-nights-a-week decision is the admission that NBC can't profitably put hour-long dramas in this slot. No matter how much they whittle down the cost of an episode of Law and Order, it ain't gonna gonna undercut a single-studio semi-scripted property like this.

So if Leno drops to an eighth of these ratings and stays there, NBC can still make money off the show. They can charge less for commercials all week and still make money.

However, there are a couple of big potential consequences of shifting The Tonight Show to 10:00pm, which is what they're really doing. Number one, it might sate people's appetites for the real Tonight Show. Poor Conan O'Brian may wind up a permanent cult figure. Worse, fans who wished they could watch Leno AND Letterman finally have their chance. Letterman rules latenight, NBC loses that revenue stream.

A more indirect consequence: the impact on your local news. Leno is still doing his monolog and like it or not, a lot of Americans get their news from monologs. Maybe they watch Leno, decide they're caught up, and go to bed. Or online. In any event, Leno at 10 has the potential to kill TV at 11.

There are some NBC executives, very popular this morning, who might be running for their lives by the end of the month.

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