Leno-WHDH Flap Divides NBC Station GMs

Apr 6, 2009  •  Post A Comment

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.


  1. You are missing a word in the following quite:
    “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.”

  2. Sunbeam owns WSVN Miami, years ago NBC pulled NBC programming from WSVN when it bought WTVJ Miami as an O/O… need I say more. Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunbeam_Television

  3. Leno will soon cease to be Mr. Tonight Show! As long as the local affil still shows it (with O’Brien), they should be avle to put any programming they wish in the 10PM slot. Leno’s show will be just another program – SO WHAT?
    I think NBC is afraid that if it works they will have egg on their face for giving Leno soooo much power. Once he leaves, no one will care.
    I think WHDH is ahead of the curve.

  4. WHDH’s contract requires NBC to pay WHDH millions of dollars yearly until 2016. WHDH’s contract and FCC rules allow WHDH to pre-empt programs after 10:00 PM; This gives NBC the opportunity to move their 10:00 show to another station. WHDH is not doing anything illegal. They are simply informing NBC early enough that they have time to find another venue. If NBC pulls the plug on WHDH, rhere will likely be a lawsuit. Knowing NBC’s inability to stand their ground (example: the Book of Daniel standoff with religious groups and sponsers.), they will back off when they get the first call from a lawyer.
    I wish NBC and Leno good luck with Leno’s new online talk show.

  5. If NBC goes on with stripping channel 7 of its affiliation, that is, if WHDH pre-empts Leno, I hope they’d be smart enough to not just transform WNEU in NH into an O&O affiliate, but also WWDP, located 25 miles south of Boston and 40% owned by NBC. The combo should adequately cover eastern Massachusetts.
    But it would be better if Ed Ansin go along with NBC and not block Leno… WSBK would be the only other sensible option.

  6. If you look at the history, you’ll notice that Ansin has spanked NBC twice already. In Miami, he cost them big bucks and ratings when he went indie. In Boston, after NBC lost WBZ, they had to convince Ansin to take NBC at WHDH. The NBC bosses are posturing and they look stupid. Look what happened in the Bay area. They bought San Jose to punish KRON and then they discovered they
    didn’t even cover half of San Fran..no less the
    ADI. Their ratings tanked and they spent MILLIONS just to stay in play. It’ll be interesting to see how KVBC and WAVE’s bosses deal with their 11 PM’s when LENO is in fourth or fifth place after a week or two.
    Ansin is a smart guy..he sees the TITANIC potential here and as time goes on, so will a lot of other owners and GM’s. Should NBC try to compete in Boston with an unknown U with no serious local news presence..well.. lotsa luck.

  7. Ed Ansin has proven to NBC once the network needs him more than he needs NBC. Allowing Ansin to provide a strong programming option into a time period that is routinely weak will serve to hurt the NBC network more than any loss of affiliation suffered by Sunbeam. If Sunbeam puts local news programming into the 10 pm time period – it will most likely dominate the ratings there.

  8. Jeff, great comment, but what do you mean by “FCC rules”? How does the FCC come into play here?

  9. Someone in Boston could go check the affiliation contract. It’s required to be available in the “Public Inspection File” as outlined here:
    List of Contracts Required to be Filed with the FCC. Stations must keep in the public file either copies of all the contracts that they have to file with the FCC, or an up-to-date list identifying all such contracts. If the station keeps a list and a member of the public asks to see copies of the actual contracts, the station must provide the copies to the requester within seven calendar days. Contracts required to be maintained or listed in the public inspection file include:
    · contracts relating to network service (network affiliation contracts);
    · contracts relating to ownership or control of the licensee or permittee or its stock. Examples include articles of incorporation, bylaws, agreements providing for the assignment of a license or permit or affecting stock ownership or voting rights (stock options, pledges, or proxies), and mortgage or loan agreements that restrict the licensee or permittee’s freedom of operation; and
    · management consultant agreements with independent contractors, and contracts relating to the utilization in a management capacity of any person other than an officer, director, or regular employee of the licensee.
    Hope this helps answer Jeff’s question.

  10. This is not the first time Mr. Ansin had a run-in with NBC.
    Look back to WSVN-TV in Miami when it was WCKT-TV – an NBC affiliate

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