Some television critics have already written off Jay Leno’s five-nights-a-week primetime show set to debut this fall. They don’t think the American viewing public will be interested.
But I think it has a good shot at succeeding.
First, NBC has set low expectations for "The Jay Leno Show." The network is already in fourth place and sees the show as a cheap (and profitable) way of filling the one-hour time slot Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (9 p.m. Central.)
It costs NBC about $15 million a week to fill that time slot with dramas. Leno’s show will cost less than $2 million a week, according to the New York Times.
NBC has said it would be happy just to retain the audience from Leno’s current hour-long show, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” which airs at 11:35 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (10:35 p.m. Central), according to Time. Last year, Leno averaged 4.8 million viewers for his show, with 1.7 million people in the category of viewers ages 18 to 49, which most advertisers favor, the New York Times said.
Second, Leno’s primetime show is counterprogramming to all the bleak crime dramas on other networks. NBC plays up this fact in its promo video for Leno’s new show. (See above.)
Leno’s primetime program will feature a format similar to his “Tonight Show,” including his monologue and comedy bits like “Headlines” and “Jay Walking.”
NBC also will get more weeks of original programming. Leno will perform 46 weeks a year. Network dramas typically air 22 to 24 new episodes a year.
Third, times have changed. With the Internet, cable TV and video games, viewers have more options for entertainment. And attention spans seem to have gotten shorter. Hour-long dramas just aren’t drawing the viewers like they used to.
Leno’s new show won’t require a season-long commitment to long-form story telling. Viewers can tune in, check out the comedy bits and see some interesting guests. No commitments.
It could offer a coveted primetime platform for rock bands, musical groups, comedians, etc., if it decides to go more the variety show route. Since it will be taped daily, it will give Leno and guests the opportunity to comment or joke about the day’s events. Since it will be fresh, taped daily, it will get a larger percentage of live viewers rather than DVR watchers. As such, viewers will be less likely to fast forward through advertisements. Advertisers will like that.
Leno’s new show is likely to draw a larger audience than his “Tonight Show” because many people don’t stay up late enough to watch it. Particularly on the coasts, the “Tonight Show” is on too late for many workers.
So don’t write off Leno. He could surprise a lot of people.