Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prime Time Leno

NBC, trying to cut its costs and losses at the same time, is giving Jay Leno a weeknight talk show at 10/9 Central after he cedes The Tonight Show next year to Conan O'Brien.

This a great move on several fronts. First, it keeps Leno from jumping to ABC, which everybody expected. Second, NBC won't have to develop material to fill five hours of air each week -- meaning five fewer shows that could tank, and NBC is seeing too many flops. Third, Leno's show costs considerably less than any scripted or unscripted prime-time show, and NBC is banking on that, as Nikki Finke reports:
Estimates are that Leno 2.0 may only cost $2M a week and result in 46 original shows, compared to the average $3 million per episode pricetag of scripted primetime dramas that air on average 22 original episodes. But the real question is whether the 58-year-old can attract more eyeballs than just the 4.8 million he averages now on The Tonight Show -- measly by primetime standards, especially in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic. But [NBC Universal President & CEO] Jeff Zucker will try to explain this away by repeating his mantra that he's managing for margins instead of ratings in this lousy economy.
Leno is an already proven commodity, and he's bound to help out affiliates who are pleading for NBC to give them better news lead-ins. However, Nikki reports at least one affiliate is lukewarm about what's coming, and this move still doesn't solve NBC's larger programming issues in the other two prime-time hours. Remember when NBC said it would no longer put expensive scripted shows in the 8/7 Central hour? As Finke points out, NBC may come to stand for Nothing But Cheap!

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