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NBC's 10PM Dramas Trail Last Year's 'Jay Leno Show' Ratings

by Gary Susman, posted Oct 26th 2010 1:30PM
ParenthoodWas Jeff Zucker right all along? The NBC boss was vilified last year for scrapping NBC's entire slate of 10PM dramas and replacing them with 'The Jay Leno Show,' a move that turned out to be both a ratings and PR disaster, one that led to Leno's hasty return to 'The Tonight Show' and the network's costly and embarrassing loss of Conan O'Brien.

This year, however, the fall dramas NBC has aired at 10PM have largely failed to draw even a paltry 'Jay Leno Show'-sized audience among the key 18-to-49 demographic, with one of those dramas, Friday night's 'Outlaw,' already canceled and replaced with news standby 'Dateline.'

Not that CBS and ABC should gloat; judging by the trouble those networks are also having at 10PM, maybe Zucker was right, and scripted dramas simply don't work at 10PM anymore.

As noted by both TV by the Numbers and Deadline, recent weeks have seen NBC's 10PM shows hovering near the same ratings points levels as 'The Jay Leno Show' among the 18-to-49 group. In week three of this season, for instance, the network's average nightly rating was 1.68 -- same as a year ago when 'Jay Leno' was on every weeknight.

Some nights were better than last year ('Chase' on Mondays,' 'Law & Order: Los Angeles' on Wednesdays); some were worse ("Outlaw' on Fridays, reality show 'The Apprentice' on Thursdays). Tuesday's 'Parenthood,' an expensive ensemble drama with a large cast, drew the same 2.1 rating the 'Leno' show used to; both benefited from having 'The Biggest Loser' as a lead-in.

'Outlaw's' ratings were low enough to get it yanked after just three weeks, but replacing it with 'Deadline' still hasn't put Fridays back at last year's levels; the first 'Dateline' scored a 1.3 rating, compared to 1.4 a year ago. Meanwhile, 'Chase' dipped to a 1.5 rating, same as 'Leno' on Mondays last year.

CBS and ABC have also added some high-profile 10PM dramas. And while CBS' 'Hawaii Five-O' is doing well on Mondays (and surely crimping the ratings of 'Chase'), it's only doing so-so with 'The Defenders' on Wednesdays and 'Blue Bloods' on Fridays. Meanwhile ABC is struggling with Tuesday night's 'Detroit 1-8-7' and especially Wednesday night's 'The Whole Truth,' a show low-rated enough to be in danger of being next on the chopping block.

The prevailing theory for the low ratings: 10PM is the hour when viewers with DVRs watch the shows they recorded earlier in the evening or earlier in the week.

There are some positive notes for NBC. All of its 10PM shows get a boost when the number of DVR viewers is added in. Plus, according to Advertising Age, all the new 10PM shows are drawing a higher fee for a 30-second commercial spot than the rates 'Leno' commanded last year. (Only 'Outlaw' had lower average ad fees, another reason why it's already gone.)

The Jay Leno ShowThen again, the 'Leno' show was supposedly cheaper to produce than any of NBC's scripted dramas (one of Zucker's reasons for creating it), so it didn't need to earn as much from commercials in order to break even.

The Leno ads may have topped out at about $66,000 (for a 30-second spot on the Tuesday edition), while the new dramas range from $81,000 (for "L&O:LA') to $100,000 (for 'Parenthood'), but it's not clear whether that's enough to make any of these shows profitable.

Nor is it clear whether viewers who watch the new 10PM shows on DVR are skipping the ads, 'Leno's' viewers tended to watch live -- which sponsors love.

At least NBC is back in the good graces of some of the important players it alienated last year, including producers who create scripted dramas and local affiliates who saw 'Leno' as hurting their 11PM newscasts. Then again, the new shows aren't doing any better at providing a strong lead-in for local newscasts, and the drama producers have to be nervous about how quickly NBC was willing to toss 'Outlaw' overboard.

So maybe a cheap, DVR-proof show at 10PM last year was the right move after all. Or maybe the slide is irreversible, and there's no way to create a 10PM show that's inexpensive, can command high ad rates, and is appointment television that viewers feel they have to watch live.


•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.

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Rena Moretti

First of all, 18-49 is not the most important number, far from it. Overall audience is what is sold.

Second, CBS is doing quite well with Blue Bloods, Friday at 10pm (on a day and a timeslot that was supposedly impossible...) It's also doing great with The Mentalist on Thursdays, which is usually the highest rated show for the night. The Defenders is also doing well for them and seems to even be growing its audience (which doubles up ABC's in that slot) while Hawaii 5-0 is only falling because it's a really bad show with bad actors (and still manages to clobber the even-worse NBC offering).

In other words, it's the show, not the timeslot that counts!

It's the same nonsensical false analysis that led the networks to abandon Saturdays and was threatening to make them abandon Fridays (ABC still had to introduce its Friday shows and has already essentially abandoned it) until CBS showed decisively that success was possible there.

As for Jeff Zucker, he is a man who said you could not program 10pm, you could not program 8pm, you could not program Saturdays and could not program Fridays...

Maybe the truth is Jeff Zucker could not program ANY time period as he failed to find a single hit (no, The Office is not a hit) during his tenure at NBC.

Supposedly difficult timeslots have been an excuse for years. It's time the networks look at the poor quality of most of their shows and do something about it.

November 03 2010 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jennifer

Has anyone maybe considered that some people make use of their DVRs by going to bed at 10 and watching the show the next day after work before shows come on? I watch plenty of shows that air at 10pm, but I also never watch live TV so I tend to watch them the next day instead.

October 27 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Raaawb

I would not translate these numbers at all into "Zucker was right." He helped kill that timeslot for NBC and this is collateral damage -- their lost audiences found the CSIs, Castle, and so forth. Compounded by weakly programming that slot with mostly new, untried shows. Even if those shows are good, they're coming from a position of "no momentum" and the other nets are handing their behinds back to them.

October 26 2010 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mb

I agree that NBC does not have good shows on at 10 pm. And what about the 9 pm shows, not that great either. Also, while people have gotten out of the habit of watching NBC at 10 pm over the last year, they also have found other shows on other networks to fill that space. On Monday nights, I like "Castle" (and DVR Hawaii 5-0) and never even watched "Chase", since it seems like a take off of "In Plain Sight".

October 26 2010 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anonymoose

The problem is the horrible shows NBC has at 10 PM, not the fact they're not Jay Leno or the timeslot. All the networks are struggling because cable offers much better programming at 10 PM even if they're reruns for now, or people just aren't watching them and choosing to play video games or browse the internet.

October 26 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Europa

Interesting that you didn't mention ABC's "Castle" in this piece which airs at 10PM on Mondays. ??? The final numbers aren't in yet but apparently it beat "Hawaii Five-O" last night and has done pretty well all season against it and "Chase" and that with constant "run-overs" by "DWTS" and pre-emptions in various markets by "Monday Night Football."

October 26 2010 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

The problem with the Jay Leno Show was that it was a carbon copy of his Tonight Show. Had he done the Top Gear vehicle setup for him, or if they were to put something else actually compelling on TV, this wouldn't be a problem. But to just copy and paste a program from 11:35 and expect it to work at 10 is just wrong... not because people don't watch or want to watch tv at 10, but because they don't have anything worth watching at 10.

You seem shocked that people aren't tuning into these 10pm shows. Have you watched any of them? The only one's that are even passable for me are LOLA and Parenthood... and LOLA is really subpar during the weeks where Terence Howard replaces Alfred Molina as the DDA. The rest of the shows you listed? Awful.

So, I find it funny that you think it's that people won't tune in at that time for a show they'd want to watch, rather than realizing they're just crap shows.

The same is true of Friday and Saturday nights. Those are the lowest rated nights of TV because those are the nights when programmers choose to put their dreck on. Didn't used to be that way... Saturday night, during the 70's, for instance, had the most popular shows on TV broadcasting. Friday has been a stalwart of science fiction programming since the mid-90's and the X-Files premiere.

Particularly now, in the age of the DVR, the notion that people aren't watching or recording a program because of its timeslot is really just off the mark. The only instance where viewers are conflicted about timeslots is when there's too much on to watch/record at once.

If it weren't the quality of the programs, but the broadcast times, the DVR viewing would drastically make up for it. After all, if, as you suggest, people are watching previously DVR'd programs at 10, why aren't they DVRing a program they want to watch later during that 10pm slot? Something about 10pm turns off their DVR? Or is it more likely that those programs just suck?

Quit making excuses for why people aren't watching network programming. They aren't watching because there's nothing worth watching... it isn't about the time, it's about the programs.

October 26 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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