TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.


Marianne Paskowski

Leno’s Move to Prime Time Saves NBC Millions

December 9, 2008 11:24 AM

I don’t know why some people are so upset that NBC is keeping Jay Leno but moving his new talk show to 10 p.m., where it will serve as a lead-in to Conan O’Brien, who takes over “The Tonight Show” this fall.

Jay Leno

These are tough economic times, and according to CNBC the move will save NBC $13 million a week because it won’t have to invest in a scripted show for that time period. Generally, the going tab for a scripted episode is $3 million per episode.

Things would have been far worse for NBC had Leno bolted for ABC or Fox. And maybe he’ll attract more eyeballs in his new time period.

What I want to know is what Leno’s new format actually will look like, as few details seem to be available for now. It’s not a variety show, but Leno will do an opening monologue and man-on-the-street spiel.

At a press conference Tuesday, Leno was short on the details, but said he’ll be taking the show outside of the studio more often.

If this is a talk show, Leno obviously will need guests, which raises an interesting question: If you were a celeb or newsmaker, which show would you rather appear on, Leno’s or O’Brien’s?

That’s a no-brainer for me, given that I find O’Brien a snore.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (30)


Hi Marianne,
I personally think that moving Conan to the Tonight Show was a great idea. All those old people will be replaced by younger (more advertiser-coveted)viewers.
Now on putting Leno in prime (as I am watching Zucker on CNBC). I think it is a good move, but I would just rather have him be in the first hour prime instead of leading into our Late News. I would rather have Law & Oder and Law & Order SVU leading into our Late news than the Jay Leno show.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Joe,
Saw Zucker, too, on CNBC. I wonder if the move will hurt the 11 o'clock news. Psychologically, there's something comforting about seeing Leno after another lousy dates of news.

The problem with having Leno leading prime time is he might have to tame down some of this remarks that could be found unsuitable for young ears.


Hi Marianne,

I think the move is brilliant, assuming that the format stays the same. The local stations will still use the hour to promote the heck out of the 11:00 news. And given the themes on many 10:00 PM shows, Leno won't have to tame down the content much if any. Zucker, the PT Barnum of network TV, has taken NBC from first to fourth in no time at all. This is one stunt that might just work because Jay Leno is already a beloved icon to middle America accustomed to seeing him five nights a week.


Marianne Paskowski:

We already know the format won't be the same. And that's OK with me, I like when Leno chats up his guests, but not when he lets some wannabe star sing or do standup.

Another thought would be to move up the local news to 10 p.m, run Leno from 10:30 to 11:30 and then O'Brien. Just a thought, but Zucker didn't ask for my two cents:)


Hi Marianne...

But what if you're a local NBC affiliate... doesn't this move hurt your late newscast. That newscast is the bread & butter newscast for a lot of stations. If a viewer isn't a fan of Leno, then the local station has lost any opportunity to grab that viewer for the newscast. At least with episodic programming, you had a chance that the viewer might be a Law & Order fan but not an ER fan. At least you got their eyeballs on your late newscast promos a couple nights a week with a better opportunity to have them stick around for the newscast.

Just my two cents worth!

- Michael

Jim Forkan:

Hi Marianne,
Financially, I guess it's a good move for NBC, but how the mighty Peacock has fallen!
I figured they'd try to keep Jay with a one-hour prime time show -- but wow!
Ratings-wise, this may not be a sure thing. He's the king of late night but prime is a whole different time. I myself enjoy Jay more than Dave, but most nights I'd rather watch a "CSI" or some other crime procedural than a talk show.
Except for the "Law & Order" franchise, seems NBC will be virtually all "reality" fare come fall.
Assuming he continues to do a monologue, that will put enormous pressure on Conan to score with brilliant topical humor night after night.
All this is taking our eyes off the ball. Answer me this! How are Zucker and Silverman avoiding the axman while their underlings go to the guillotine?

Marianne Paskowski:


Good point about the impact on NBC stations' local news.

I tend to look at this a little differently: I look at the local NBC affiliate late night newscast as a lead in to Leno.

And that's because when sports come on, I make the coffee for the next morning, let the dog out, etc, so that I can catch Jay's monologue.

I do think it's a little whacko to sandwich the news between Leno and O'Brien.

Good thing, bad thing, we'll see? m

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jim,

Albeit this move has risk. But what's to lose the broadcast economic model has been broken for decades, so why not shake it up?

Maybe Zucker and Silverman just saved their jobs with this move by not letting Leno go to the competition.

Immelt, the head of GE, has larger issues, like the economic collapse of China.

Remember kids, it's just TV, m

As I wrote somewhere else today, this will either work really well or, by this time next year it will have failed.

Jay is very popular and he will probably succeed at this change. I hope so, friend Ellen Brown will, I'm sure, continue to Direct.

Jack Parr did not remain in primetime for long after he turned Tonight over to Johnny.

The fickle audience no doubt has Jay in their "after-the-news" mental nitch. That could be a hurdle to success.

I won't even bother with all the business/ratings poop here. I leave that to those who live and breathe it...I think it has a good chance of surviving and it will be interesting to see if the viewer base will make the move long term.

This is fun. I look forward to watching how it plays out. Good luck to Jay, Ellen and all the rest.
Peter Bright

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Peter,
What I really hope happens here is that NBC will re-invest the money it's saving on this shift and get some quality back on the Peacock Network, the last in the ratings race.

Do I think that will happen? Absolutely not. GE's bottom line is a mess.Ge's stock just dropped another five percent today, m


Jay's ratings prove he's the most successful and popular host of his kind. The Tonight Show earns NBC $250m a year. But instead of gratitude, he gets evicted so his show can be used to make Conan O’Brien [who earns them $100m less] stay with the team.

Today, to stop the other networks beating them over the head with the results of this witless stupidity, they re-hired him. But not from respect or to correct their mistake – They did this because he’s the cheap option.

Jay is not the one NBC needs to remove. Escort Mr. Zucker and his pals to the curb and you’d save millions in profits *and* audience IQ’s.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hey, it is what it is and Leno knows that at the age of 58. Leno wants to work.

I think the strangest thing about all of this is that O'Brien was promised Leno's job five years ago, even though Leno's ratings are beyond comparison.

Why do you think Zucker, etal, want to keep O'Brien?
Younger viewers, period. Great move, they, the younger viewers, don't have the money that advertisers are interested in reaching.

Leno is legend. O'Brien is an acquired taste, at best.



NBC is trying to have it both ways. They were one of the leaders in pushing Web-delivered content (such as Hulu), but are still trying to salvage a prime-time lineup. Another big problem is that as of today, they've only sold 85% of ad avails for the 2009 Super Bowl, and may have to start discounting to close out the rest.

Economically, the move makes sense. When you're in 4th place and falling, how can things get any worse? But a previous post has it spot on about the average TV viewer's mindset: Jay Leno comes on after the news, not before. And I'd be interested to see what percentage of the viewing audience switches off after his monologue and the first segment (Jaywalking, Headlines, etc.) Bet it's a lot. Will those same viewers tune in before the local news?

As for appealing to the younger generation, they're part of the problem, so to speak. They believe in watching video "anywhere, anytime" and are not married to TV schedules. Yes, this group likes Conan, who is admittedly an acquired taste, just like Dave Letterman.

If this works for NBC, you may see a "sea change" in how NBCU produces and delivers content going forward, tying the Web more closely to traditional TV channel delivery. Can they make money at it?

Only time will tell, but I'd expect other nets to follow NBC's lead pretty quickly if this is even remotely successful.

Joe Guerin:

Ms. Paskowski,

Thank goodness for NBC's failing ratings. Leno's Tonight Show was the only thing worth watching on that network, but it always ran too late for us older folks to stay up for. Now, I have a pretty good chance of making it to 9pm (central) each night, so I can catch The Monologue. I won't stay of for Conan; half the things he says, I'm told down at the Senior Center, don't make sense to post-adolescents.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Pete,
Here's a question back to you. I read somewhere today that NBC isn't doing well with Hulu.Why can't NBC reach everyone, young and old?

And then the Peacock's problem selling Super Bowl's remaining inventory.I could care less about sports, so too bad NBC.

Basically I like this NBC experiment, especially because Leno hung out and got a raise for less work.
Way to go Jay, m!

Jeff Mulligan:


NBCU made a smart move in these tight times, putting in a low-budget, proven ratings winner in a critical nightly slot that might otherwise be filled by more jejune and unfunny sitcoms and cockamamie "reality" drivel. Leno's wit, displaying the wisdom of well-honed humor, elevates prime time TV to a higher level.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Joe,

Well it's 8 p.m. here on the spit of sand, glad to read you're still awake and at least know how to write a response to a blog.

Anyhow, there's really no bad news in today's Leno headline except for Hollywood. Less work for writers and actors, not a good thing, but they'll figure it out, m

Marianne Paskowski:


What I really worry about more that I think about this is if we will ever get a decent episodic show on TV again?

The other nets are likely to follow NBC, in their own ways.

What I really want to see is these BS reality shows banned from broadcast TV.

Cable, for now is a better place to surf, m


Yo, Blondie --

Conan and Letterman shouldn't worry. The audiences for their type of show will stick with them, in large part because there's nothing else on TV after the 11 o'clock news besides old movies and endless strings of auto dealer and weight reduction ads. Leno will have to compete with all manner of interesting cable programming in prime time, plus substantive cable news and opinion shows of far greater appeal than Leno interviewing atarlets about their bouts with bulimia nervosa.

Cruisin not bruisin

Marianne Paskowski:


Think you're right about viewers already switching to cable in the 10 p.m. time slot. I do, m


Hey M,
I don't really know what to think of this. Yes, NBC will make money on the deal and if the network programs the remaining two hours correctly, could become very competitive during those hours again. It would force NBC to bring in really only 2 to 3 more hours worth of shows for next season and they would be able to throw out low rated stuff that they otherwise would've been forced to keep like Chuck, Life, Kath and Kim, repeats of Friday Night Lights, among others. NBC needs to take this opportunity to get strong in the early hours and then gradually reduce Leno in prime time. First, on a few nights where the 9pm shows are strong and then eventually down to a few nights a week as Jay ages and gets closer to retirement. The problem will be if this flops instantly and then what the heck do they do? If he only pulls 3 million viewers, it won't be a fun situation and the Biggest Loser, Dateline, the Apprentice, the Office, and other reality ventures will quickly become "super-sized" every week.

Take care and don't worry about those losing potential jobs at NBC so much. Cable's still growing and there will be lots of new opportunities there for a long time to come.

Marianne Paskowski:

Interesting point about how long Leno will stay. Anyone know the length of his contract? Zucker wouldn't say during a televised interview.

Andy S.:

"Basically I like this NBC experiment, especially because Leno hung out and got a raise for less work."

Less work? If anything, I think this means more work for Leno. It's going to take more to hold the 10pm audience than simply duplicating the Tonight Show format, especially since Conan will essentially be doing that at 11:30.

Another question comes to mind: how many weeks of original programming will they be offering at 10pm, and what will they do about reruns?

While there are obvious financial benefits to this move, there's also a big risk. If it doesn't work, if, say, it burns out the way ABC burned out running Millionaire into the ground, they wind up in a worse position than they were in before.

Marianne Paskowski:

Leno's show is a half hour less, he got a raise, that's a win, win for him if he can deliver the numbers.


Andy S.:

"Leno's show is a half hour less"

Less than what? The Tonight Show airs from 11:35 to 12:35, right? And his new show will air from 10:00 to 11:00, right?

Marianne Paskowski:

Oops you're right, I guess it seemed longer. Still he got a raise, m

Jim Forkan:

Hi Marianne,
On your question about how long his new contract will run, Jay said on "Access Hollywood" last night that it would go "two to three years." So NBC has "two to three years" to get its prime time act together.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jim,

Thanks for that factoid, m

Lou Borrelli:

Marianne, honey - I like the move... boomers like you and me (young at heart and still looking fabulous) dont' need the help, but the rest of our tribe can't spell DVR, let alone program one...it was easier to move him - the fact they save money is a bonus!

You never call...you never write... miss you....

Marianne Paskowski:

Hey long time no see. I looked for you at CTAM in Boston but you were a no show:)

I like the move, too, although it really doesn't matter for me, I'm an owl. Self employed folks like me keep very strange hours.

Good to hear from you.....m

Post a comment