Top TV Stories of 2008: Leno moves to 10 PM
by Hemal Jhaveri, posted Dec 31st 2008 11:01AM
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.
More Top TV Stories of 2008