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NBC Once Again Ponders Giving the 10 p.m. Hour Back to Its Affiliates

Chicago P.D.
The hardworking crime-fighters of 'Chicago P.D.' could be among those affected by an NBC decision to retreat from the 10 p.m. hour. (Image credit: Lori Allen/NBC)

NBC is once again thinking about the unthinkable -- giving the 10 p.m. hour back to its affiliate broadcast stations and letting them worry about the high programming expenses. 

“While NBC is the number one network, we are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible,” NBC said in a statement released Friday, after the Wall Street Journal reported renewed interest in a possible retreat from the 10 o'clock hour. “As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide audiences with the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”

NBC, ABC and CBS have each provided three hours of primetime programming to their affiliates from Monday through Thursday for decades. And they've kept the practice up, even though relative "upstarts" such as FOX and the CW only program the two-hour window from 8 to 10 p.m.

Reportedly, NBC is considering a move in which The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon would be bumped up an hour to 10:30 p.m., ostensibly rendering the 11 o'clock local news the 10 o'clock local news. 

Also reportedly, nothing has been decided. And even if it were, nothing could be moved in time to affect the upcoming fall  2022-23 TV season schedule. 

This is hardly the first time that NBC -- or ABC and CBS -- has pondered this move. Programming the 10 p.m. slot with an hourlong drama is expensive, after all. And the returns keep on dwindling.

NBC toyed with a scheme to program the 10 p.m. hour in a cheaper way back in 2009, with its short-lived variety strip The Jay Leno Show, which featured the namesake comedian, having ceded, only temporarily as it turned out, his Tonight Show hosting gig to Conan O'Brien, interacting with his audience with field gags. 

The gambit lasted only 95 episodes before Leno was back behind the Tonight Show desk ... and the righteously embittered O'Brien took his talents to TBS. 

A decade later, the tectonic movement of the TV audience away from broadcast TV has only made the pondering seem all the less shocking. Each of NBC's returning 10 o'clock scripted dramas has seen steady audience erosion, with Law & Order: Organized Crime dropping its viewer average by a whopping 29% in the 2021-22 season. Tuesday night series New Amsterdam, now entering its final campaign, declined nearly 12% season over season, and Wednesday-night show Chicago P.D. dropped 4.1%.

NBC has one new 10 o'clock hourlong set for this fall, a reboot of Quantum Leap on Mondays.

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!