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Paper Calls Leno 'Pauper'

NBC execs have been preaching patience when it comes to primetime rookie Jay Leno, but appears some prominent reporters have missed the sermon. A USA Today story on Jay Leno’s “precipitous slide” Oct. 7 said “the former king of late night is turning into the pauper of prime time.”

Reporter Gary Levin said Leno’s numbers compared unfavorably to NBC’s 10 p.m. performance at this time last year, when the network was still investing in scripted programming in that hour. “Averaging 5.9 million viewers for the first two weeks of the TV season, Leno is down 25% from the dramas NBC aired in that hour last year, several of which were later canceled. Among adults ages 18 to 49, it’s down 41%.”

Other papers told a similar story. “From Jay Leno to Jay Uh-oh!”, teased the NY Daily News, while the Columbus Dispatch said Jay was “hitting some speed bumps.” The Oct. 12 New York Times said Leno has harmed dramas like Law & Order: SVU and Southland that might’ve been better suited for that 10 p.m. slot, and dragged down local late news in several markets.

Writes Bill Carter:

If producers have reason to be dismayed, owners of NBC’s affiliated stations may be expected to be in open revolt. Among the top 15 cities in the country, ratings for the late news - a prime source of revenue for local television - are down 10 to 30 percent.

Affiliates who live and die by their late news have thus far pledged their support to Leno as a lead-in, trotting out the metaphor about the show being a marathon, with 46 weeks of fresh material, as opposed to a sprint. But the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi reported that several major NBC outlets have succumbed to what he dubs the “Leno Effect”, in terms of a significantly diminished late news audience.

“During Leno’s second week on the air in late September, NBC’s Los Angeles station saw its 11 p.m. news ratings fall 30 percent compared with the same week last year. In Philly, the drop was 32 percent. In Dallas, it was 33 percent,” writes Farhi, who points out that local NBC O&O WRC has actually gained viewers since Leno launched.

WRC boss Michael Jack tells the Post: “Maybe as the news leaders, the good news is people continue to find us, regardless of the lead-in program.”