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Leno Leaves, NBC's Wobbly Business Model Returns

Posted by: Ron Grover on January 10, 2010

Announcements don’t get much more dramatic than the one NBC made today about yanking The Jay Leno show from its 10 o’clock time period just three months after the former host of The Tonight Show began his one-hour comedy, skit show.

Yes, NBC TV honcho Jeff Gaspin told an overflow gathering of reporters on Sunday’s TV Critics Tour in Pasadena, Calif., NBC’s 200-odd affiliates had forced the change because prime time ratings tanked. The reason? Their 11 pm news programs, a nice little profit center for most stations, was suddenly hemorrhaging through no fault of their own.

But what Gaspin didn’t say – at least not so boldly – was that NBC had also made an abrupt u-turn on its plans to remake a broken business model for making TV shows. Prime time pilots are made for $10 million, shows for $3 million or so, and viewing audiences are going south. Gaspin’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker, had made the fateful decision to bring in Leno, and to shuttle Law and Order and other 10 pm shows out of their time slots, by arguing that ratings would go down but so would costs.

So much for that idea. Coupled with the announcement that Leno was taking his $500,000 a week show off the air at 10 pm., was the announcement that NBC was going back to the good old ways that networks have always operated. Namely, big producers, big stars, and cross your fingers the shows work. How about these for some biggies to whom NBC said it is throwing its bucks the next few weeks in hopes of finding TV lightning in a bottle – Jerry Bruckheimer, David E. Kelly and J.J. Abrams, who will direct a pilot called “Undercovers” about CIA agents. The last time Abrams directed a pilot, it only cost $13 million.

Of course, that pilot was Lost, which was an immediate and big (although not terribly long lasting) hit on ABC. Clearly, that’s what NBC is hoping Abrams will bring to NBC as well. Then again, they’re hoping the same thing for a remake of “The Rockford Files” that they’ve also ordered for what’s going to be a pricey sum. We all know how their last retread effort — i.e. “Knight Rider” — turned out.

So, I clearly don’t have much hope that NBC will find a week’s worth out of well-priced shows from this crop of pilots, which will be ready for September 2010. I do know that the meter is running and the costs are rising just as tight-fisted cable operator Comcast is going through the federal regulatory process to take over a 51% stake. Imagine the teeth gnashing.

So, here’s an easy solution to NBC’s 10 pm problem that maybe, just maybe, might help Gaspin and Co. find a new economic model for a network TV. How about taking one of the hit shows from its sister cable channel, Bravo, and run them at 10 pm? Anyone who has ever seen Housewives of New York or Millionaire Matchmaker knows that these shows are addicting, and would find an audience maybe twice as big as the Leno yuckfest got for about the same price.

At the Pasadena critics presentation, NBC's prime time president, Angela Bromstad, was asked why not go fishing in Bravo’s waters. “Bravo has its own identify,” she said, as if that should suffice.

It did for that audience. But you have to wonder how all of this is playing with Comcast, which can only watch helplessly as NBC’s prime time seems to be headed for a costly crash dive. And the costs won’t just be going up for prime time. Costs for the late night shows, will also soar if both Leno and Conan O’Brien bring their outsized salaries to the after-news time slot.

Hey, not to worry. NBC will have it all figured out by the time they have present their new crop of shows to advertisers next September. They’re doing that in a big lavish presentation at Radio City Music Hall. Gaspin announced that NBC was bringing back that flashy presentation, too.

Reader Comments


January 11, 2010 3:28 AM

It's refreshing to see that the public refuses to give the broadcast networks a bye on torching programming in their race to the bottom for return on investment. Leno and Conan may make big salaries, but their worth every penny to the formerly proud Peacock network (more like the Hummingbird network now)!


January 11, 2010 12:00 PM

I quite enjoyed viewing Leno at 10:00 because "Baby Boomers" (that is, I speak for myself but I think more of us), can't stay past 11:00 p.m. especially if you are working the next day. I think his show is extremely funny, I like the skits/the "earn your plug" and interviews with celebrities. Quite a unique style of show. That is too bad that he will be leaving the 10:00 p.m. slot, I usually catch the first part of News and fall asleep. Well, good luck to him, he is a very funny and talented man. He will be missed...Oksana


January 11, 2010 12:09 PM

Great minds think alike - Bravo has some great shows that's why i can't turn over to watch leno at 10...


January 11, 2010 12:09 PM

Great minds think alike - Bravo has some great shows that's why i can't turn over to watch leno at 10...


January 11, 2010 12:49 PM

While not appealing to me, one genre that is absent from the networks during primetime is family-friendly shows. There are many people who keep the TV off because they are offended by the content and/or they do not want their children seeing it. Make a G-rated show that people can related to. It doesn't have to cost much or have big-name stars either.


January 11, 2010 5:56 PM

Leno is not too bad as a host. even Letterman can be tolerable. O'Brien is off the wall! intelligence level of late night shows is very low. not like Parr and Carson. I guess viewers get what they deserve. CRAP!


January 11, 2010 8:38 PM

Why not remake the A-Team, Guys love things getting blown up.


January 12, 2010 5:39 AM

too bad NBC let the local stations dictate their prime time lineup. This is the only show I watch on network TV...the networks can have their crime, murder and reality TV TRASH they call entertainment...


January 12, 2010 8:31 AM

Do show times really matter these days? - the DVR has made it redundant.

Robert Laughing

January 12, 2010 11:57 AM

While spending December on Maui, we caught the 'New Leno' and were APPALLED! The show STANK! We don't have cable or sat TV - too much crappola + the INSULT of endless, mind-rotting adverts!! - so once again, we fully comprehend why we NO LONGER have TV....just netflicks and our library = pure bliss!


January 12, 2010 1:41 PM

The age group that watch Leno are the ones that still do watch TV. 10 pm is a better time for them than later. Most younger generation do not watch TV but catch the shows online at their convenience. Changing the time slot for a bigger audience is not going to work for NBC.


January 13, 2010 4:44 PM

What about Monk or Burn Notice or White Collar? Doesnt NBC still own the USA Network? Those shows are great.

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