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Uphill climb for Leno, Peacock.

He's not the network's savior but Jay Leno also isn't solely to blame for the Peacock's puny prime-time performances.


After three weeks on the air, ratings for NBC's "Jay Leno Show" are about where most expected. The show won its ballyhooed premiere week opposite mostly repeats, but it's now usually running third while being most competitive on Tuesday (where there's not a killer drama opposite it) and Friday (where the numbers are low across the board, so nobody dominates.)

But while Leno's ratings are low by primetime standards (averaging about a 1.8 rating in 18-49 and 6 million viewers overall), the net has estimated it can make hundreds of millions of dollars if the show stays above a 1.5 demo for the entire year.

Such a template for success, however, means the network must abandon any hopes of ever competing for the season ratings crown.

It would be a different matter if NBC dominated the opening two hours of primetime, but that's simply not the case. Featuring a lineup that lacks monster hits or any identity from night to night, NBC's primetime is a jumbled mess right now; the net was completely shut out of the list of top 20 entertainment programs for premiere week.

Since the season kicked off Sept. 21, "Leno" has been holding about 75% of what NBC has averaged from 8 to 10 p.m., compared with holds of more than 90% for CBS and roughly 85% for ABC in the 10 o'clock hour.

This means that while ABC and CBS occasionally deliver their strongest numbers at 10 p.m., NBC is consistently peaking earlier--and those 8-10 p.m. numbers ain't pretty.

As the network stares down the barrel of another fourth-place finish this season, here's a look at the early trickle-down effect of "The Leno Show" on other programming:

* NBC's "Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien," which had consistently been beating CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" in adults 18-49 over the summer, lost during premiere week--"Late Show's" first weekly triumph over original "Tonight" segs since 2005.

Sure Letterman benefited from big opening-night numbers courtesy of guest President Obama, but he also won the rest of the week too. This is significant, because he hadn't won a single night head-to-head with O'Brien.

A primary reason for the shift is that CBS is now much stronger than NBC at 10 p.m. among the coveted 18-49 crowd (3.4 to 1.9 in rating), helping funnel more viewers to Letterman; this gap was much smaller in summer.

There's also a sense that having basically the same show at 10 p.m. as 11:35 p.m. is hurting NBC in latenight. It's not hard to imagine many viewers watching "Leno" on DVR playback at the same time O'Brien airs.

* NBC returning dramas "Law and Order: SVU" and "Heroes" must air earlier to make room for "Leno." "SVU," in particular, as NBC's lone hit 10 p.m. drama from last season, is struggling up against another potent drama (CBS' "Criminal Minds") and placing fourth.

And a new medical drama like "Mercy" seems out of place at 8, when a 10 p.m. slot would make more sense.

* CBS and ABC are the beneficiaries of less drama competish at 10 o'clock.

While the Eye rules Monday and Wednesday with its "CSI" skeins, its "The Good Wife" is off to a solid start on Tuesday--in part because it doesn't face an incumbent winner in "SVU"--and Thursday's "The Mentalist" is cleaning Leno's clock on a night when NBC had long aired "ER."

For ABC, middling performers like "The Forgotten" and "Eastwick" might get more time to find an aud with one less drama alternative in the hour.

And on Friday, ABC's 10 p.m. newsmag "20/20," which regularly trailed NBC's "Dateline" when it aired two-hour installments from 9 to 11 p.m., is now faring much better without such competish.

* Having just 10 hours of weeknight entertainment programming will impact NBC's ability to find new hits.

Those Monday-through-Thursday 8-10 p.m. blocks are stacked with popular programs on the competish, meaning any new Peacock skein must take on the likes of "House," "Two and a Half Men" or "Grey's Anatomy." At least when NBC programmed dramas at 10, they went up against one fewer competitor (Fox).

* And then there's the affiliates. It's too early to judge the impact of weaker 10:30 p.m. numbers on the 11 p.m. newscasts, but they can't be happy. Sure Leno's numbers relative to the competish may look better during the holidays and summer months, but the NBC stations will be up against it at times--like sweeps--when every network fires off its biggest guns.

Any way you slice it, the Leno shift may indeed be a profitable one for the Peacock, but it's also created one hell of a headache for the NBC spin machine.
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Title Annotation:tv; 'The Jay Leno Show' on NBC
Author:Kissell, Rick
Date:Oct 5, 2009
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