How Patient Will NBC Be About "The Jay Leno Show"?

Last Updated Oct 13, 2009 2:49 PM EDT

Perhaps the most pointed of all of the stories assessing NBC's decision to run "The Jay Leno Show" every weeknight at 10 p.m. came yesterday -- Bill Carter's story in The New York Times looked not only at the show's performance, but at the so-called "collateral damage" around intentionally putting a show in that time block that wasn't expected to perform as well as the dramas on the other networks.

While the opinions of those speculating run from dire to a more measured "maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all", one bit of speculation remains unanswered: will NBC have the patience to let the show play out over the course of the entire season, as it has pledged it will do?

Though the show is performing more or less the way the network said it would, it's having a ripple effect that is sending shockwaves through other parts of the NBC schedule. "Law & Order: SVU", which changed to a 9 p.m. time slot to accommodate the show, has seen lost audience, as have the 11 p.m. local newscasts at NBC affiliates, some of which, at an earlier point, threatened to not run "Leno" at all, citing ratings concerns. The "Leno" show has also hurt Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." A well-received drama, "Southland" was cancelled by NBC earlier this month, before its second season even saw daylight, partly because it was considered too risque for its 9 p.m. time slot. All in all, it's not a pretty picture.

The patience question comes into play because broadcast networks have never been patient organizations, but the "Leno" experiment has always put NBC in a position to have to be just that. The cancellation of "Southland" isn't the first time a network has folded its cards on a show remarkably early; but the true value of the "Leno" shift is meant to play out over a full year, when first-run series on the other networks are replaced by reruns, and fresh "Leno" shows are supposed to fill the ratings gap, and increase NBC's profit margin on the show.

But that's months off. And in the meantime, all sorts of pressure is going to be brought to bear on NBC from producers of other NBC shows, advertisers who bought shows that have been adversely affected by the "Leno" move, and particularly, I imagine, from NBC affiliates. You have to wonder if NBC can hold out, and if it does, whether the real reason was that suddenly replacing five hours a week of primetime TV is a near-impossible task.

Previous coverage of "The Jay Leno Show" at BNET Media: