The Pros and Cons of NBC’s 10 p.m. Leno Leap

There is so much fallout still falling out over NBC’s surprise announcement this week that Jay Leno is moving to 10 p.m. that is is hard to know where to start. It’s good news for ABC’s Nightline, which is beating Leno and David Letterman and now won’t be ditched to make room for Jay. It is bad news for the production community, which now have five fewer network hours a week to pitch TV drama.
Directly affected are all those other TV talk show hosts currently preparing shows on NBC. I spoke with Conan O’Brien a month or so ago in an interview strictly embargoed for my upcoming book on late night. Suffice to say O’Brien will be recharged and ready when he steps on stage of the new studio NBC has built him in Burbank when his Tonight Show debuts June 1.
Here is what O’Brien had to say about the Leno announcement on Late Night Tuesday:

I’ve had many people calling me today saying, “What is all this? “What’s happening?” Jay Leno is going to be going in at 10:00 on NBC. I wanted to make something very clear here on the show this evening. I’ve known about this for a while. I’ve talked a lot about this with Jay. I am thrilled. I am absolutely thrilled that Jay is staying at NBC. He has been my lead-in on this program for 16 seasons. He is a fantastic lead-in. He is a huge part of my success. I am indebted to Jay Leno. And I love the idea that that relationship is going to continue. He is going to be my lead-in continuing, I hope, for a long, long time. So congratulations to Jay Leno. This is a happy ending. It’s very nice. We’re thrilled for him and we’re thrilled for everybody at the Tonight Show. Also I’ve talked it over with my producer and that means I can keep doing my Jay Leno impression.

Jimmy Fallon, who takes over O’Brien’s 12:35 a.m. Late Night timeslot March 2, is already prepping his new talk show. You can catch his nightly, five minute webisodes at http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/ (although they seem to be geoblocked in Canada). Take a TV Barn end-around that geoblock here to check out Monday’s vlog, where he introduces his hip hop house band The Roots:

Nice to see the nod to former 30 Rock Studio 6-B occupants Milton Berle, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. Fallon has his work cut out for him, but the webisode idea is good place to get up to speed without finding your feet on air. Certainly O’Brien would have welcomed this chance to “open out of town” when he started in late night back in 1992.
More about all the changes in late night and the Great Jay Leno at 10 PM NBC caper in this week’s Talk Radio podcast with CHML’s Scott Thompson. You can listen in here. (And, yes, the link works now.)

As I say to Scott, when you take a closer look at NBC’s current ratings at 10 p.m., this whole deal starts to make a lot of sense. Both Lipstick Jungle (3.44 million viewers last Friday) and My Own Worst Enemy (3.4 million last Monday) are shut down shows just burning off episodes. Aging ER is toast after the May series finale anyway. The two Law & Order shows still at 10 have a loyal fan base (both were in the U.S. Top-20 last week, with the original scoring 11.31 million and SVU–which won its timeslot again last night, pulling 10.33) which will likely follow them to 9 next season. Leno will book all the Tom Cruises, George Clooneys and Angelina Jolies he can get and will likely do better than what NBC averages for the week now–at a fraction of the cost. Veteran late night observer Aaron Barnhart over at TV Barn argues that this is a win-win deal for NBC here.
Not everybody agrees, however. West coast “crankypants” critic Tim Goodman says NBC has just mortgaged their future, handed 10 p.m. to the competition (particularly cable) and screwed O’Brien, devaluing The Tonight Show by allowing Leno to scoop the best guests and giving aging boomers one less reason to stay up until 11:35 (or even set their PVRs). Says Goodman, “Leno might have hurt Conan’s ratings head-to-head, but here he takes away all the best guests, maintains a higher profile, diminishes the importance of The Tonight Show and continues to make more money and prove he’s a more valued commodity to the NBC brass. Yikes.” Read the rest of his typically persuasive take here.

Leave a Reply