Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: NBC has nothing but Leno left to lose

In tomorrow's column (available on-line today!), I go further in-depth into the mess at NBC that led to them giving Jay Leno the 10 p.m. timeslot five nights a week:
Midway through the press conference yesterday to announce that Jay Leno would stay at NBC and take over the 10 p.m. timeslot Monday through Friday, I asked NBC boss Ben Silverman what sort of domino effect devoting five hours a week to Leno would have on the rest of primetime.

Silverman, an excitable type fond of the latest aggressive management buzzwords - "killer app," "firepower" - rattled off an answer about "taking the swings we need to take" earlier in the evening, and said the deal's allure was "having the stability of Jay on every single night, on that lineup, driving what the NBC brand is, which is a comedy brand, and is a brand of true talent, and that's what Jay is."

"What Ben's saying is we barely have six hours of programming," Leno cracked.

The best comedy comes from the simple truth, and in that one line, Leno plainly laid out the real reason NBC is handing him the keys to more than 20 percent of its primetime real estate:

They've got nothing else.
To read the full thing, click here.


Chris said...

I feel so bad for Conan. Instead of being allowed to get his feet and retain the audience that Leno has built and his own audience, they're chopping him off at the legs. Putting Leno on at 10 only gives more people reason to go to bed at 11.

If I were Conan, I think I'd have to talk to my lawyers or something.

Anonymous said...

The Conan Tonight Show deal was announced in 2004, not 2005.

Jeff said...

Well, you have to give credit to NBC for creating a boondoggle even worse than the one it created when they awarded "Tonight" to Leno over Letterman.

Too bad - I was really looking forward to Jay appearing on Letterman after his "retirement."

Lizbeth said...

Leno on five days a week on primetime TV? This might be the lamest programming announcement I've ever heard.

To me, NBC is basically telling me I can go to sleep early five days a week or go somewhere else to be entertained because they have absolutely NOTHING.

If you can't guess, I'm not a Leno fan. And even if I found him mildly amusing, I still wouldn't want to see him 5 days in one week. Besides I still think a network should attempt to come up with innovative and original programming if they want to stay relevant.

NBC is basically admitting they give up. They are creatively tapped and they don't care if we all know it.

Personally, I'd rather watch repeats of "My Own Worst Enemy" or kittens dancing on YouTube.

Tom said...


If you were Conan, who would you rather have as a lead-in: Jay Leno interviewing Tom Cruise, or Christian Slater playing a schizo super-spy?

A Hobson's choice, to be sure, but I've got to go with Jay and Tom.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand how Zucker or Silverman have kept their jobs. This reminds me of the plan a year or so ago to only air reality shows in the 8 pm hour. Yeah, it saved money in the short run, but it gave them absolutely no flow to the schedule, nothing to sell into syndication or sell on dvd, no critical acclaim, and the shows were CRAP. But apparently no one at NBC understands the idea of looking to the future. Brandon Tartikoff must be rolling in his grave.

Nicole said...

If Leno just spends to whole hour attacking NBC, much as Dave did during his tenure, there may be a chance that this show is funny. Or maybe Leno seemed funny in that interview because it was in print.

There has been a culture of laziness with the networks for a while, NBC being the worst ones, and the cable audiences would not have grown, had there been really good shows still on network tv. However, it is just a multitude of L&Os, CSIs and reality shows, so there really is very little to pull us in.

I just hope that in 5 years from now there isn't a request for a bailout from the networks, because this rewarding of failure is kinda mind blowing especially since these are corporations and not "not for profit" charities.

David said...

Leno sure isn't taking Carson's, nor Seinfeld's advice and getting out while on top.

Also, his quips about NBC's flailing schedule were the funniest things I've ever heard him say. Or only.

Anonymous said...

I'm so over late night tv, and talk shows in general. I only ever tune in to see a specific guest or musical act, and by tune in, I mean dvr it to watch only that segment at my convenience. And that's only if I didn't already see the clip on whatever online fan blog pertains to that person/group. So Jay, Dave, whatever, it doesn't matter to me, really, The only one I find funny at all is the Scottish guy. Put him on at 10:00, I might watch that a few times a week.

Operation Aesthetic said...

Yes, Craig Ferguson is awesome. He's the only one I actually laugh regularly at. He's nuts.

Dave's fine, but Leno, MEH.

All of this NBC failurey drives home the point that we have a lot of inept leaders paid way too much money to drive blue chip companies into the ground. Where do they get these guys?

Anonymous said...

Where do they get these guys? 9th floor. Toupees and Merkins.

Wow, that's bad decision.

Nicole said...

If the Daily Show and Colbert Report count as talk shows, then they are the only ones that I consistently watch M-T except reruns. I used to watch Dave and Conan more often, but the comedy on both isn't usually as good or insightful as TDS and CR, so I've have my fill by midnight, and can still go to bed at a fairly reasonable time.

If there is a guest I want to see on the other shows, I usually wait until it's on You Tube. The one recent exception was when Defamer reported on Dave bitching out McCain at the time of the taping in early evening, so I knew to stay up to watch it.

ardenswv said...

So in effect historic NBC becomes a "netlet" along the lines of UPN, the WB, the CW, and kinda/sorta like new-kid-on-the-block-by-historical-standards Fox. Whatever. There hasn't been a Must-See show on IMHO since Seinfeld (Ross was too annoying for me to plan around Friends...).

DonBoy said...

I'm with one the the Anonymouses upthread: is there nobody on the board of GE/Whatever who has the power to say "You've admitted you cannot program a network -- get out and we'll find someone who at least is willing to try"?

Anna said...

NBC is giving up. How sad that the network that gave us some of the best shows in the 10 o'clock hour (Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, ER, Homicide)is giving up. I would rather they replay some of the classics from the beginning.

Don't watch Leno at 11:30, won't watch him at 10.

Philo T. Farnsworth said...

Fox has been getting along fine forever without anything in the 10 o'clock slot, so I don't see this as a horrible move at all. Originally, the FCC agreed that Fox could air local news at 10 only because they didn't have network news, which the FCC excused but would require once the network found its legs. Guess the network never found its legs. That or Murdoch had some serious pull in DC. Smart like a Fox that man. Hmmm, producing and/or paying for 15 hours of programming versus 25.5? Yeah, thought so.

killerlu said...

Personally after thinking a little about this, I feel it's really no skin off my nose. The only show I have watched at 10pm eastern time on NBC is "Law & Order". It's not like i will miss that block really. I compare it to having DVD and VHS versions of the same movie, then I rid myself of one and I find out I never really did need two versions. Sad that NBC and company have conceded defeat though.
And that they have to figure that the ratings on his new show won't improve over what he rates right now. Some percentage of viewers will stay behind and I can't see the show gaining viewers as the months pass.

clarked2 said...

Did anyone else see that Jimmy Fallon has gotten The Roots as his house band? That is shocking. I may actually have to watch it now. Impressive. Very very impressive.

I never cared for Fallon, but he could work as an affable, if not hilarious (we'll see), talk show host. As for Leno, I really hope NBC falls flat, if only because I don't know if I could bare that much Leno, combined with the fear of losing good primetime shows (suppose Friday Night Lights gets the boot to make room for something else in this cramped schedule?)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't've been easier (and cheaper) to just pay conan his $40 million clause and keep Jay on TTS?

Anthony Foglia said...

As much as I hate this idea--I want a network to at least try to program something other than simple, unchallenging gruel--it makes economic sense. Even if NBC was doing well, it would make sense. (Not as much as now, but a little.) The broadcast networks are slowly dying as viewer switch to cable. Entropy drives the flow from the few networks with lots of viewers to the many networks with a few. Good shows can help the networks delay the inevitable, but cheap shows prepare them for that fate.

If you're a businessman, would you rather spend a lot on a pilot for a show that will likely get few viewers and lose money (e.g. Pushing Daisies, My Own Worst Enemy, etc.) or go for the cheap, but profitable route with reality shows and Jay Leno five times a week?

Eventually the broadcast networks will be just like the top tier cable nets. A few signature shows, and cheap filler the rest of the time.

matt said...

all we can really do is watch and see what happens. I'm of the belief that if CBS's proceedurals regularly trounces Leno on NBC---eventually Zuckerman will have to do something about that....i mean am i wrong there? Ok maybe it won't matter after all since CBS has been soundly beating them for a couple of years now at 10 anyways but say what if ABC regularly beats NBC and NBC regularly ends up in 3rd place with Leno... meaning NBC is getting beat by shows it used to beat but is no longer doing--shows like I don't even know cause really does ABC even have anything on at 10 anymore that does well? and as i'm typing this I realize really, truly and fully how beyond awful the primetime situation has actually gotten within this past year or two.

I can't believe I never saw that before either, cause there's still a bunch of shows on during the regular week that i'm more then psyched about seeing during that week...but suffice it to say...primetime tv in 2008 is no primetime tv in 2004 which itself was no primetime tv in 2000. that's just sad.

Wild prediction---NBC will go all the way thru the winter with Leno on at 10---perhaps even the spring, and til the end of the '10 season, but eventually they'll end up reducing Jay. Even Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire faded from overexposure---is Leno even as popular as that show was in its prime???

ARRRGH. TV I love you, but why are you doing this to me???? Don't i offer you enough loyalty and patience normally??? well patience is a virtue right?

If Murdoch was smart--he'd jump on the 10 o clock bandwagon and effectively switch places with NBC pronto.

Also Conan should get Letterman's show when Letterman calls it a day. (oh come on how awesome would that be if that actually happened?--boy would Jon Stewert be pissed!) More drama for all I says cause it certainly won't be on NBC this fall.

PokerFool said...

The people at NBC are a bunch of idiots, and that can be proven by this fact:

Their best show, The Office, is aired at the same time as CBs's and ABC's top show, CSI and Grey's. Why would they do this? My DVR can only record two shows at once. Guess which one gets left off?

My favorite shows (now that The Shiled is done) on TV right now are Chuck and Life. I'm really afraid that one or both of them will be axed to make way for Jay. And BTW, I'm not planning on watching the new Jay show.

Dennis Wilson said...

Prediction: Many NBC affiliates will run Seinfeld reruns or lucrative local programming at 10 p.m. instead and hold Jay until 11:35 p.m. anyway, and follow it with Conan, et al., same as before.

Some will go even further, expanding their local newscast to an hour, dropping it into the 10 p.m. timeslot and starting Jay at 11 p.m., putting him against Letterman once again but this time with a half-hour head start.

Maura said...

All I really want to know is what's going to happen to Law & Order. I think they've been trying to bury it for years now.

I feel so bad for Conan. Instead of being allowed to get his feet and retain the audience that Leno has built and his own audience, they're chopping him off at the legs. Putting Leno on at 10 only gives more people reason to go to bed at 11.

I've never understood the viewing habits of the American people, but it seems to me that anyone who waits until 12:30 to watch Conan is going watch him at 11:30. Or record his show an hour earlier.

But, seriously, what do I know? I thought no one would ever watch Survivor.

Brandon Tartikoff must be rolling in his grave.

Over and over and over.

Philo T. Farnsworth said...

If Murdoch was smart--he'd jump on the 10 o clock bandwagon and effectively switch places with NBC pronto.

Agreed. Fox could really make a splash if they marketed the hell out of two really smart shows, a really violent show, a really sexual show, and one variety type show for Fridays.

Rachel said...

Their best show, The Office, is aired at the same time as CBs's and ABC's top show, CSI and Grey's. Why would they do this? My DVR can only record two shows at once. Guess which one gets left off?

Well that is a prime night and time slot for advertising dollars so I bet they make more off The Office at 9pm on Thursdays with slightly lower ratings than they would at another night/time with slightly higher ratings. And though I love The Office, at this point its audience isn't likely to get much bigger than it already is just because you put it against different competition.

p.s. You DVR CSI? Seriously?

I don't know what to think of this move. I think it's a short-term business solution to get them through some tough economic times so it might work in that respect. But it could also bankrupt the creative side at NBC. I have a soft spot for the network--I grew up on The Cosby Show and Family ties and then Friends/Seinfeld/ER--so it's kind of hard to see it falling on such tough times creatively.

I just hope that they'll stick with Chuck and Life. I'm optimistic that they will since they will be putting less money into developing pilots.

Anonymous said...

Something to keep in mind is that with actual broadcast TV becoming digital in Feb, many people using antennas will go to cable/satellite instead of messing with converter boxes. More cable viewers, more choices, less network viewing.

SR said...

Personally, I can't stand watching Leno, but on balance this is probably a worthwhile gamble for NBC and not a bad deal for Conan.

If Leno is on ABC or FOX opposite Conan, he'll probably kill Conan in the ratings, making it look like NBC made the wrong choice in sticking with him.

If Conan does well at 11:35, great. If he does poorly, he can pin some of the blame on the 10pm Leno show.

Meanwhile, if Leno does poorly at 10pm and they pull the plug, Conan looks like the better choice AND never has to compete head-to-head with him.

Short of Leno going into retirement, this might be the best case scenario for Conan.

lambertman said...

p.s. You DVR CSI? Seriously?

What's this supposed to imply?

Question Mark said...

Geez, you put Kathy Geiss in charge of GE for a few months and look what happens...

shara says said...

I don't watch late nite TV. I'll hulu the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but they're really the only ones worth watching. Craig Ferguson is pretty funny, and he's really the only one of any of the late-nite hosts that I find likable. I've seen clips of his show online, and I might consider watching him occasionally at 10pm if he was on. But I don't really like to watch TV after 10pm as a rule, that's about the time I've gotta start headed towards sleepyland. I've never been a Leno fan, not in the slightest, I just don't think he's all that funny or entertaining - so I won't be watching him whatever time he's on. But I wasn't watching much of anything after 10pm anyway, so its not like they're losing my viewership, per se - but by putting Leno on every nite at 10pm, they're certainly eliminating the possibility of bringing me into the 10pm fold (and definitely not providing me with anything worth hulu-ing or iTunes-ing).

It does sound like NBC is throwing in the towel, which says to me that it needs some new leadership. And some decent shows. And some long-term vision. If they had solid shows for all the 8pm and 9pm spots, the Leno move might make more sense. NBC has pretty decent Monday and Thursday lineups, but I don't even know what's on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Fridays.

Anonymous said...

This move seems to be all about economics. Given NBC's inability to produce much that can compete in this time slot, it makes some sense from a business standpoint. For NBC, some of the advantages seem to be:

- Leno is going to be drastically cheaper than original content at that time. Drastically. A week of Leno is probably less than half the cost of an ER episode, not to mention all the other shows aired, cancelled pilots, etc.
- More weeks of non-repeat programming.
- Topical nature may make it more likely to be watched live/not DVR'd or watched on demand (like some cable companies offer with CBS shows)
- Instead of having to compete, they are the only ones filling a niche at that time slot.

Combined, even if viewership drops off significantly, I have to think it is very possible the 10PM slot is going to become much more profitable for NBC.

Obviously, it would be nice if they could still produce shows people want to watch at that time. (And GE management should consider what this means about current management). But, given the constraints, it's an understandable move from a short sighted bottom line standpoint.

Tyroc said...

The Roots being Jimmy Fallon's house band is pretty nuts. Makes me think the show might actually have potential...

toonsterwu said...

The failure of NBC to nurture shows will leave them in a rut for a long time. There used to be a time when they let shows develop, even if it got off to a bad start. I think they've had some decent ideas in recent years, at least, conceptually, but the small aspects haven't worked itself out because they haven't had time (for example, love Kidnapped a few years ago).

I think another big fear with doing this that isn't being discussed is the general loss of the adult audience beforehand. in the 8-10 block, there's a lot less that shows can do, which may not attract the adults. Essentially, they might be competing with the CW.

Also, if they want to be the comedy network ... then develop some comedies in the same vein that CBS is largely a procedural network now. You want to stamp yourself - then run with it. I have doubts that they will be bold enough though. If they want to be the comedy block, then run, say, 3 comedy blocks a week, have your "police drama wednesday or whatever they want to call it" and find something for the last day, maybe the "once hot shows, we have no place for them to go now" (like Heroes). Chuck could be a part of a comedy block with two comedic lead ins (and that's arguably the best show on their network right now).

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I watch "The Daily Show,""Colbert Report,"and Craig Ferguson. Ferguson is the only late night host I really like, and even for him, I skip the "comedy bit"after the monologue most of the time. (I DVR it so I can see the beginning and the guests.) Never watch Leno--even when there's a good guest on, and rarely Dave--at least not the first half hour. I guess I'm going to have another hour for other pursuits in the fall. At least there's cable for decent programming.

Rachel said...

What's this supposed to imply?

Sorry -- that was a little to snarky, even for me. Frankly, I've never gotten the appeal of CSI. (And I've seen plenty of episodes; had a roommate in school who was obsessed with it.) I certainly don't understand it as appointment television.

Maura said...

I certainly don't understand it as appointment television.

And some of us do. I never got Six Feet Under. Different strokes (not the show, of course) and all that stuff.

Rachel said...

Different Strokes--now that was appointment TV. ;)

But yes, you are right.

Mark B said...

If I were Conan, I think I'd have to talk to my lawyers or something.

There's no cause of action. He was guaranteed, and is getting, the 11:30 time slot.

If you were Conan, who would you rather have as a lead-in: Jay Leno interviewing Tom Cruise, or Christian Slater playing a schizo super-spy?

If I were Conan, I'd rather have Jay as a lead-in (with promos running for me during his show) than as a competitor on another network.

It may be tougher to get guests, but had Jay gone to another network, there'd still be that problem.

Back in 1975, Johnny Carson feared losing audience to Saturday Night Live, and that was on a night he wasn't even on! (They settled on prohibiting hosts on SNL a certain number of days before and after being on Carson's show.)

Even Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire faded from overexposure

I've always thought their problem was too many celebrity editions, and worse, too many reruns of celebrity editions. The audience never knew when a new episode was on, and got out of the habit of watching it.

Chris the TV Sage said...

Thanks Rachel. Someday, we'll live in a world where noone gets mocked for the TV choices. Except, of course, for those reality dating shows. Can't forgive those. ;)

Maura said...

I watch some of the worst reality shows on TV, and I totally deserve to be mocked.

The failure of NBC to nurture shows will leave them in a rut for a long time. There used to be a time when they let shows develop, even if it got off to a bad start. I think they've had some decent ideas in recent years, at least, conceptually, but the small aspects haven't worked itself out because they haven't had time (for example, love Kidnapped a few years ago).

I agree completely. They're in such a rush to pull a good show with low ratings (like Journeyman), even if they don't have anything better to replace it with. They just throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
I think that can be said of all three major networks though. Their panic is showing.

Cable networks don't do this. I'm trying to remember the last time a basic cable network pulled a show after just a few episodes. It's not as though all of TNT's shows are edgier than the major network shows are. The Closer is, at its heart, just another crime show. "Raising the Bar" is just another lawyer show, and not a good one either.

I know that cable accepts lower numbers than the big Three will accept, but that's the problem. Is it just that cable is where all the smart, talented people go now?