NBC's Jay Leno Disaster Continues Into Current TV Season

In case you thought NBC solved everything by moving Jay Leno back to The Tonight Show earlier this year, now that the new TV season is in full swing, it looks like it's anything but. In fact, the new TV season is only amplifying how bad the cascading set of decisions -- that started with moving Jay Leno out of The Tonight Show in favor of Conan O'Brien -- was. To put it mildly, the damage continues. Here are the facts:
  • The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is getting a lower rating in the key 18-49 demographic than The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien did this time a year ago. The ratings for both shows isn't anything to write home about -- a 1.0 for O'Brien vs. a 0.9 for Leno -- but remember the expectation that Leno was going to restore the program?
  • The 10 p.m. dramas on NBC that have replaced The Jay Leno Show are actually doing no better than The Jay Leno Show -- which was considered one of primetime's greatest disasters. According to TV By the Numbers, it stacks up like this: in the third week of this season, the average rating in 18-49 over the course of Monday to Friday is identical to The Jay Leno Show at the same time last year -- a 1.68. Additionally, on two nights -- Friday (where the now-cancelled Outlaw had the 10 p.m. slot), and Thursday (where The Apprentice currently runs), The Jay Leno Show actually did better. The one night where the new program does substantially better is Wednesday, where the "new" Law and Order: LA did a 2.4 rating last week as opposed to the Leno show's 1.7 last year.
The relatively strong performance of Law & Order actually makes the point: the first mistake NBC made in the Leno/O'Brien fiasco was to not recognize the value of keeping a franchise right where it was. Consider that when Leno finished his first incarnation as Tonight Show host, his show was posting a 1.4 rating in adults 18-49. Even though I don't think many Leno viewers really cared much about the whole #teamconan movement, they still never came back to the show -- probably discovering other programming at 11:30 once O'Brien became the new Tonight Show host.

Meanwhile, moving Leno to primetime seems to have gotten viewers out of the habit of tuning into NBC at 10 p.m. In getting rid of a bunch of dramas to make room for Leno, NBC lost the anchors that any network needs to keep itself afloat.

You may wonder, given the continuing dismal ratings news at NBC, why the local affiliates have been so quiet. The reason is that it's an election year, which makes them fat with political ads, and, therefore, happy. According to NBC Universal's latest earnings, operating profit in local media was up by 87 percent, which can be attributed to the general advertising rebound, and the aforementioned political ads. However, as an NBC turnaround doesn't look like it will happen anytime soon, expect them to start whining again in 2011.