Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Safety Valve, Dressed In Jay Leno's Timeslot

Color me skeptical.

Most of the television talking heads today, were all ga-ga over the news that broke last evening, that Jay Leno was being retained by NBC and handed a 10:00PM, Prime-Time time slot, beginning next Fall.

Where Is Leno Going? To Prime Time, on NBC

The network will announce Tuesday that Mr. Leno’s new show will appear at 10 o’clock each weeknight in a format similar to “The Tonight Show,” which hehas hosted since 1993.

Five years ago NBC announced that it would hand the job of host of that franchise show to Conan O’Brien in May 2009. Since then the network has maneuvered to try to keep Mr. Leno, who continues to be the late-night ratings leader, fearing that he could leave and start a new late-night show on a competitor’s network. “The Tonight Show” is seen at 11:35 weeknights.
Most of the discussions that abounded on the tube today, payed lip service to Leno's "political humor", and droned on-and-on about how "smart" NBC was, in that producing the "Tonight Show Lite" at 10PM will be so, so much cheaper than developing an hour-long drama.
Though Mr. Leno will command an enormous salary, probably more than $30 million a year, the cost of his show will be a fraction of what a network pays for dramas at 10 p.m. Those average about $3 million an episode. That adds up to $15 million a week to fill the 10 p.m. hour. Mr. Leno’s show is expected to cost less than $2 million a week.

In addition, NBC will get more weeks of original programming. Network dramas typically make 22 to 24 episodes a year. Under this deal, the executives involved in the discussions said, Mr. Leno will perform 46 weeks a year.
Lip service was also paid to (even by Leno, himself, on with Olbermann this evening), on the changing viewing habits, how, overall, television programming is changing and evolving.

And, it was noted today, by Bill Carter, the NYT reporter, on MSNBC today, that Leno had a deal-in-hand with ABC, but couldn't act on it while still under contract with NBC.

Here's where you can pull out the crayons, and my skepticism kicks in.

Surely, saving millions and covering hours of program was a motivation for NBC.

And they will pull in viewers, initially, anyway, with the uniqueness of it.

But here's the unspoken reason NBC was so hot to do this deal;

They wanted Leno in-the-house, as a safety valve, should Conan O'Brien crash-and-burn with moving from his off-beat 12:30AM time slot, to the primo, 11:30 Tonight Show shrine.

Leno establishes the 10PM time slot, makes it workable, and, then, after some major ego pampering, and dancing-on-eggshells PR, Leno bumps back to the 11:30PM Tonight Show, to pull it out of the ratings (i.e. losing money) ashes.

Want precedent?

Go back to when Carson retired, and all the anguished hand wringing, whether to move Letterman from 12:30PM, to Carson's seat, or hand it over to the trusted, steady fill-in host, Leno.

They lost Letterman to CBS.

Fool me once, shame on you ...

This time, they're keeping Leno in-the-house, as a "just-in-case".

And don't think Conan O'Brien doesn't know it.

Jesus, he has Leno staring at him for an hour before he goes on.

Pressure? ... What pressure?

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