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Jay Leno at 10pm. NBC adjusts to the new media reality.

2009 September 11

I just got done reading the cover story of September 14th issue of Time Magazine titled, Jay Leno is the Future of Television.  Seriously! The article’s author James Poniewozik offers that:

“NBC’s The Jay Leno Show, which debuts Sept. 14 at 10 p.m., is the oldest thing in TV:  a comedy-variety show, with a funnyman, a stage, guests and in-show ads.  And yet it is also a radical experiment.”

In the 9/10/09 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Tim Goodman predicted that Leno and NBC will fail – even if the show makes money for the network.

How can the oldest thing in TV be risky?  Why would a columnist predict failure?

First off, because comedy-variety as a genre has been missing on prime time TV for a very long time – because it fell out of vogue.  And second, because Leno’s show isn’t just a one-hour/once-a-week proposition like The Carol Burnett Show, but a five-nights-a-week comedy/variety show in the competitive 10 p.m. time slot – a slot that is very important to local TV affiliates, because it leads in to their 11pm newscasts.

NBC may be rolling the dice . . . but in reality they have no other choice.  They have been in 4th place since 2004, and according to Time Magazine had no Top-30 shows last year except for Football.   Since Seinfeld and Friends signed off, the golden peacock has been busy laying eggs.

Until recently the network television industry hadn’t changed much since it’s inception.  They offered up a variety of 30 minute comedys and hour long dramas served up with a super-sized helping of commercials.

But today, everthing has changed.  Consumers have many more choices of evening enrichment and entertainment.  Network television has to change or it will die.

I salute NBC for looking change in the eye and for taking action instead of just reacting.

Actually, I think that Jay Leno nightly at 10 p.m. is a pretty safe bet for NBC.


Viewing habits are changing.  Television is no longer the great family gathering place.  Appointment TV has been replaced by on-demand, and DVRs.

Many go to bed before the 11pm news, and Leno will certainly be a big nighttime bedroom hit.  And a hit for those who don’t want to invest a whole hour watching TV at 10pm.  They will tune into the monologue and hit the sack when they’ve had enough.  That’s the reality of media today.  And NBC seems to understand that people have lots of choices, and very short attention spans.

Leno’s show is relatively inexpensive.  Five live Leno shows a week cost less to produce than one one-hour drama.  So even if Leno only attracts 5 million viewers a night (the same number Leno’s Tonight Show attracted, but a tiny audience for a major network in prime time), the show will be more profitable than any drama it replaces.  Add product placement (Ford electric car races for one), and the show makes even more financial sense.

NBC is the first network to openly admit that they are not just competing with three other networks, but rather with every cable channel as well.  Add Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, You Tube, Xbox 360, Wii, Rock Band and a bazillion other online diversions and it’s easy to see that no network will ever again dominate the ratings except when they offer exclusive coverage of LIVE time-sensitive events (i.e. The Super Bowl & The Olympics etc.).

In a recent blog post, radio consultant Mark Ramsey addressed problems within the radio community.  Ramsey’s thoughts also pertain to Television.  Ramsey said,

“Much of the problem of radio today stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “radio” means in the era of Twitter and Facebook and consumer empowerment.”

In a follow up blog, Ramsey interviewed Tom Asacker, (click her for an Asacker “must read”) a noted speaker, strategist, and author of A Clear Eye for Branding and shares a transcript of the interview in his blog.

Here’s what Asacker has to say about radio (and I ask you again to think Television when Asacker mentions Radio):

“Radio is not just a place where you put dollars to send out messages. The advertisers, the marketers, the agencies – everybody that participates in this relationship – have things they’re trying to get out of the relationship. There is value that they’re looking for, and this is where I think radio (and a lot of other media companies) are missing the game that’s changing before their eyes: The nature of value that people are trying to receive has changed dramatically. The Internet has had a lot to do with their elevated expectations.

The media business is changing whether the industry likes it or not.  Today is not like yesterday.  Tomorrow will be quite different from today.

NBC is not crying “uncle”.  In fact, stripping Leno at 10pm is really not that earth-shaking if you look at the ratings and financial success of the Today Show, and Nightly News which now air 7 days a week.  It’s the same idea with a familiar and popular face in a new time slot.

A couple of writers from’s TV Channel viewed the Leno Show test run on Wednesday the 9th.  They didn’t love it.  Here’s a link to their review.

OK, so it may take a few months, or even a year for Leno to find his groove.  NBC has committed to give the show at least two years to click and I’m glad they made that commitment.

Leno’s a really smart guy.  I’m sure he knows that for his show to work, he and “it” (the show) will have to be exceptional, ground-breaking, fresh, new and most important – unpredictable.

If he can deliver an exceptional always evolving experience, he will usher in a new era of “must-see TV” for a daring new style NBC.  One that recognizes that they are not able to continue to business as usual.

Hey, this promo for his show is funny!


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