question of the day: NBC cancels prime-time Leno: why did it take so long?

Anyone could have said that moving Jay Leno, America’s class clown, to prime time from late night was a bad idea — in fact, lots of us did say it. And NBC finally caught on:

PASADENA, Calif. – NBC said Sunday it decided to pull the plug on the Jay Leno experiment when some affiliate stations considered dropping the nightly prime-time show, and the network is waiting to hear if Leno and “Tonight” host Conan O’Brien accept its new late-night TV plans.

“The Jay Leno Show,” which airs at 10 p.m. EST, will end with the Feb. 12 beginning of the Winter Olympics, said NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin. Leno would return to his former 11:35 p.m. slot after the Olympics ended under the network’s new plan, which also calls for O’Brien to retain his job with “Tonight” but at the later hour of 12:05 a.m. EST.

(You know who I feel sorry for? Conan.)

One interesting tidbit from the Associated Press report linked above:

Gaspin said that despite lower ratings for NBC at 10 p.m. compared to last year, the network was making money off the show.

But affiliates were upset that it was leading fewer viewers into their late news programs, costing them significant advertising revenue. Some affiliates told NBC in December they would go public soon about their complaints if a change wasn’t made, or even take Leno’s show off the air.

So cheaper is good, as long as it’s not so cheap that even a tiny audience can make a show profitable. Because audience really is key. Nice note from Andrew Leonard at Salon:

“The Jay Leno Show” turned out be one of least DVR-ed shows on television. But not because viewers were afraid to miss anything in-the-moment. They just didn’t like the show. To make matters worse, instead of watching Leno, they appeared to be using the time slot as their preferred opportunity to watch other shows that they had previously DVR-ed.

The whole idea of coming up with a “DVR-proof” strategy betrays a remarkable failure on the part of NBC to understand the changing media landscape. The first goal should be to be popular. One sign of popularity is that audiences will be eager to DVR your content. That’s the price you pay. Viewers have simply too many entertainment choices to choose from today for it to make any sense to think otherwise.

Why did it take so long for NBC to realize the error of their ways? And what stupid idea will they come up with to replace Leno?

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