Leno Study: Good News for Late News

The NBC affiliates board was very pleased with the results of a comprehensive study it commissioned to find out how to best retain local-news viewers coming out of the Jay Leno 10 p.m. program, which launches in the fall.

The survey of some 3,000 news viewers in the 25-54 age group showed that “north of 50%” said they were interested in watching Leno, according to NBC affiliate board chairman Michael Fiorile.

Of that majority group, more than half said there was a “very strong likelihood” that they'd stick around to watch late news after Jay.

Fiorile would not share specific numbers, as the affiliates had not yet seen the results. But he said he was pleasantly surprised by them.

“It's a high percentage,” he said. “If you hold onto more than 50% of your lead-in, you're doing pretty good.”

That may calm the nerves of some station execs, many of whom have expressed a wait-and-see attitude (WHDH Boston aside) toward the audience flow. And Leno himself is very aware of the situation.

“We're going to do a lot more comedy in the last half-hour,” he said last week. “People like the monologue, the headlines, things like Jay-walking, and some of the bits that we do. The real trick is what we do in the second half-hour. Although my job previous to this was to give Conan [O'Brien] a good lead-in, now it's really important that I give a good lead-in to stations' 11 o'clock news. That's really where they make their money.”

The board tapped research firm Norman Hecht to conduct the survey. It says it will work with NBC on shaping the new primetime show, hoping to avoid the ratings drop-off that Leno presently gets toward the end of The Tonight Show.

Fiorile says the affiliate board is adamant about affiliates getting a “news window” early in the program to promote late news with local anchors; the board is working with the network on what sort of local inserts the stations will receive. Fiorile says such promotional windows will be top of the agenda when the affiliates meet in New York this week.

“There's excellent opportunity for late news if the affiliates take advantage of promoting their news during the show,” Fiorile points out. “We'll really stress that to the affiliates.”

Norman Hecht co-president Dan Greenberg says the study showed a much greater synergy between a station's late news and Leno's topical humor than with the crime dramas (not to mention repeats) that typically populate the 10 p.m. hour. One respondent said that if he were to record something on the DVR, he'd record a drama and watch Leno live—because “it's topical with the day's events.”

The affiliate board has presented the study to NBC; Fiorile says network brass were pleased with the findings as well.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.