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December 22, 2014

What Are Jay Leno's Former Viewers Watching Instead of Leno?

by Scott Harris, posted Dec 29th 2009 2:30PM
When NBC announced its risky plan to replace the entire 10PM slate with nightly episodes of 'The Jay Leno Show,' rival executives at the other major networks sensed an opportunity. If NBC's gambit backfired, they reasoned, shows on CBS and ABC would likely be the beneficiary, as viewers unhappy with the peacock would turn to other venues for their television entertainment.

Well, they were half right.

As some media watchers predicted, 'The Jay Leno Show' has, in fact, turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in television programming history. Fans of Leno at the 11:30 hour have failed to migrate along with the former 'Tonight Show' host, leading to a shocking 45 percent drop in ratings for NBC at the 10PM time slot over last year in the key 18-49 demographic, according to Media Life Magazine.

Yet, despite this, ABC and CBS have combined to post only a .1 ratings increase during this same time frame. So if NBC's former viewers aren't watching 'Leno' and they aren't watching CBS or ABC, what exactly are they doing with all that extra free time? Reading a book?

It turns out that the answer is something else entirely: cable. While the major networks are struggling at 10PM, original programming on cable channels is seeing a corresponding surge, with ratings in the 18-49 demographic up an impressive 1.6 rating over last year. Combined with the loss of viewers from NBC, the math seems to suggest that when viewers leave, they are leaving network programming entirely and turning to increasingly popular and critically acclaimed cable shows instead.

Some of the big winners so far in the Leno Viewer Sweepstakes:

'Sons of Anarchy' - The biker series, which features Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal in an ensemble piece about living life high on the hog, started strong this year and finished even stronger: The premiere brought in an impressive 4.29 million viewers, just edged out by the finale, which topped off at 4.3 million, enough to earn the series a third season pickup.

'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' - Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Leno debacle is, surprisingly, 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians.' The series, which ranks in the top 10 for all three of the major age demographics, brought in 4.1 million viewers for the season 4 premiere -- more than twice as many as the 1.7 that watched the season 3 debut.

'Men of a Certain Age' - One of the biggest new shows of the year is TNT's 'Men of a Certain Age,' which features TV stalwarts Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher in a series about men dealing with the realities of middle age -- which perhaps appeals to the same older demographic that made Leno so successful to begin with.

'Top Chef' - Bravo's perennial cooking throwdown has a mortal lock on its time slot; though the series flirted with a 9 p.m. air time earlier this year, by the time the finale screened earlier this month it was back in its familiar digs, and to good effect: the final episode of this sixth season brought in 3.4 million viewers.

'Nip/Tuck' and 'Damages' -- 'Sons of Anarchy' isn't the only FX hit to air at 10 p.m.; 'Nip/Tuck' and 'Damages,' both of which are slated to return in early January, also run during that slot, which previously has housed acclaimed series such as 'Rescue Me' and 'The Shield.'

'Project Runway' - Despite a change of venue (from Bravo to Lifetime) and culture (from New York high fashion to the laid back L. A. vibe), 'Project Runway' continued to drive ratings with style; the season 6 finale brought in 4.2 million fans.

Just what NBC and the other networks can do to regain some of these lost viewers is unclear. Historically, cable ratings have been trending upward for decades, a phenomenon only exacerbated by increasingly widespread use of DVRs and the Internet, both of which help expose viewers to new shows. Whether a change in network programming would be sufficient to woo back these lost viewers is doubtful; once the cat is out of the bag, it seems, there may be no way to get it back in.

Whatever the end result, then, one thing is increasingly apparent: NBC's big 10PM gamble is turning out to have much higher stakes than anyone at the major networks expected.

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