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Top TV Stories of 2008: Leno moves to 10 PM

by Hemal Jhaveri, posted Dec 31st 2008 11:01AM
Jay Leno
It comes in just under the wire, but one 2008's late breaking stories might prove to be one of the most influential. About a month ago, NBC gave Jay Leno the 10 PM slot every weeknight starting next fall. That's a pretty bold move. If the NBC gamble works, it could mean significant changes for the television industry as we know it. It's also a sign that NBC is in deep trouble.

NBC has been in fourth place for awhile now among broadcast networks. While they have their share of returning hits (30 Rock and The Office), their new shows for 2008 have been a disaster. Even second season dramas like Heroes and Chuck have been hemorrhaging viewers. And with ER finally giving up the ghost this May, it's a brilliantly simple move to just shift Leno to 10 PM.

Moving Leno is really the most visible tip of a larger iceberg: Networks are in deep financial trouble and, like everyone these days, want to cut costs. Ninety-minute talk shows are cheaper to produce than hour-long dramas, and NBC gets the added bonus of betting on a winning horse. NBC has the added advantage of not sinking the slot and an undetermined amount of development money into an unknown property. Instead, they're going with a friendly face Americans love.

I may be naive, but I think this is actually a brilliant move on NBC's part. Funny or not, people are just plain comfortable with Leno. Unlike Letterman, who can be abrasive and too sarcastic for some, Leno exudes a kind of humble, Midwestern, non-threatening befuddled charm people love. While it seems creatively stagnant to plop him into this spot, it could be a solid ratings boost. Whether it will be enough to hold up against original dramas like CSI and Grey's Anatomy is anyone's guess.

So, does that mean NBC is giving up on 10 PM dramas? It sure feels like it. In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, critic Alan Sepinwall called this an "Extinction-Level Event," noting that with NBC running football on Sundays, repeats on Saturdays, and now Leno at 10 PM every night, the network has only 10 hours left for original programming. You can just bet that reality shows will take up a big chunk of that, too.

Because it's developing fewer shows, NBC will have fewer chances to create the next hit. Many critics have lamented that NBC will no longer make "the kinds of shows it used to make." Granted, I don't remember the days of Hill Street Blues, but I also don't see the next ER or, for that matter, Heroes coming out of their next season. And while Leno could be a ratings and financial boost it feels like an artistic cop-out.

The impact of this story will really play out in the '09 season. Networks have slowly been moving away from the old models of TV programming, and it took a major paradigm shift like this for viewers to really take notice. Networks are also having a hard time dealing with the advent of delayed-watching technology, like DVRs and online streaming. They'll need to be able to more effectively manage and (here comes a dirty word) monetize their hits to stay afloat. With so many viewers fleeing to the remote corners of cable TV and specialized programming, perhaps a large hit isn't what NBC should shoot for right now. By kind of churning out chum for a mass audience, they'll stay afloat, which most of us are struggling to do.

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I went back to check, because I sort of remembered : Jay Leno said in '04 he would leave in '09 in favor of Conan O'Brien.
I know, at the time, his thinking might have been of actually retiring from show business, and by now he has changed his mind on that point. "Almost certantly" it's all just a coincidence.
But technically you cannot say he didn't keep his word .

January 02 2009 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've always thought moving Leno to 10 pm was a worthwile gambit - financially speaking - but I was afraid to say anything because the reaction was so strong when the move was announced. Shame on me for giving a rats ass what everyone else thought and allowing it to prevent me from voicing my opinion. Kudos to you for speaking up.

Unfortunately, I have to also agree that this is an extinction level event for the networks if it succeeds, and maybe even if it doesn't.

December 31 2008 at 7:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really think this move by NBC puts them in an interesting position. It may be that NBC is looking to dump Leno, but on good terms. Instead of dumping him right away, they put him in the 10 oclock time slot, making it cheap to produce and easier than making new hour dramas. Then when his ratings show that he is no competition or he turns out to be a success, NBC makes its move and releases the dramas they've been working on for the past year...

I know this is quite a conspiracy theory, but you never know now-a-days.

December 31 2008 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess we'll see if a mideason show on NBC becomes a substantial hit, which is what they really need because their top show is SVU, followed by ER and L&O - all 10+ years old. So nothing they've come up with since then is much of anything haha. Leno might do good at the start, but people will tire of him and go to what they're used to seeing from 10-11pm - dramas.

Oh and Heroes is in its 3rd season not its 2nd.

December 31 2008 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can really see Leno competing with the CSIs. Yes, Leno is dirt cheap to produce compared to CSI, but the ratings will reflect that. So long NBC.

December 31 2008 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I may be proved wrong and Leno will be a great success, but to me this is the beginning of the end for NBC as a name in national broadcasting. It may be cheap in the long run but I can't see how this will pull NBC out of 4th place. There are some really great series at the 10pm hours on other networks. Can Leno really compete with that. I mean, Leno and Letterman barely pull in 3 million viewers, can Leno really increase that being in prime time? I doubt it. If not, that would make him less successful than most of what NBC already airs.

Thank God Ben Silverman is not in charge of NBC's cable networks. But considering NBC Universal rewards failure more than success who knows what they'll do.

December 31 2008 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Mighty

Yes, NBC haven't been doing well in the ratings, but that doesn't mean their producing a lot of excellent television. 30 Rock, The Office, Friday Night Lights, Chuck, Life, and Kings coming up. And say what you want about Heroes, but it's a lot more ambitious then most other shows on television, even though it can be a bit of a mess sometimes. That's a hell of a lot better then CBS imo. At yet, it doesn't pay off. I can understand why they'd want to rely on Leno when people just aren't watching the better and more expensive stuff they have to offer. I don't think quality has been the problem for NBC the last few years, so while it's easy to declare "artistic cop-out", people just aren't willing to tune in to these shows anymore.

December 31 2008 at 11:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yet, if you hop over to USA, which is owned by NBC, they seem to have no problem creating interesting 1 hour shows that support enough viewers to make them profitable.

December 31 2008 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mike's comment

I think the cable point goes to exactly why this makes sense. USA produces what, 4 1 hour shows. This puts NBC in Fox's territory, all year scheduling, 2 hours of prime time. It is quality, not quantity that counts, FX, USA, and AMC are proving that. You don't need 20 hours of new scripted programming a week you just need a couple good hours of it.

December 31 2008 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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