WHDH-TV’s announcement that it won’t run Jay Leno’s new 10 p.m. talk show has left NBC-affiliated station bosses divided, with some voicing sympathy and others wondering what the Boston affiliate was thinking.
The NBC network hammered Sunbeam Television owned WHDH as soon as the station announced plans to schedule the Leno hour with local news. Since then, the station has fallen silent, leaving the industry wondering whether WHDH will pull back from the brink.
NBC has promised retribution if WHDH goes through with its plan, promising that Leno will air in Boston—whether WHDH is the network affiliate or whether that affiliation goes to another broadcast outlet.
WHDH’s precipitous move prompted some GMs to wonder whether Sunbeam had a Plan B when it made its announcement.
“I imagine that they thought this out before they announced it,” Lisa Poe-Howfield, general manager of Las Vegas NBC affiliate KVBC, said. “[WHDH] must have some other plan in their back pocket.”
Ms. Poe-Howfield and Louisville’s WAVE general manager Steve Langford, said that NBC’s 10 p.m. lead-ins have always struggled to push viewers into the news. The Leno plan can only stabilize or improve numbers, they said.
“My take is that I’m going to get 39 weeks of fresh programming in a time period that, quite frankly, NBC has had great difficulty with over the past few years,” Mr. Langford said. “I don’t see a lot of downside. I only see upside potential.”
Some general managers weren’t optimistic about the 10 p.m. hour under Mr. Leno.
“Given NBC’s track record of late, it could get worse,” Craig Allison, general manager of NBC’s Kansas City affiliate, KSHB, said.
Mr. Allison said he hopes for the best in terms of NBC affiliates and the Leno gamble, but understands that by going with news instead of Leno, a local station would get to keeps the entire ad inventory. Depending on the 10 p.m. news in the market, that could make a significant viewership grab.
“It’s almost a no-brainer. The only thing you have at stake is the relationship you have with the network,” Mr. Allison said.
Other general managers agreed.
“If they pull this off, and they a full hour of late news, they’re probably going to make more money than the other way around,” Mr. Langford said of WHDH’s gambit.
If WHDH continues with their plan of removing Leno at 10 p.m., it’s essentially certain that NBC would strip the station of its affiliation.
NBC owns WNEU-TV in Boston, currently a Telemundo station that could be converted into the NBC affiliate.
A source familiar with the conflict said several stations in the Boston area have already contacted NBC regarding the possible up-for-grabs affiliation agreement.
Mr. Allison said he was skeptical that quality stations would rush to NBC to claim the affiliation.
“The line of prospective NBC affiliated desirees is not as long as it was six years ago,” he said.
Even if NBC squashes the unrest over Leno in Boston, the controversy could be distracting.
“If there were other GMs out there that had that concern, it might solidify it in their minds now that maybe they should be thinking along those lines,” Ms. Poe-Howfield said.