Ed Driscoll

Television Isn't Immune

The accelerating pace of change is impacting television as well. As Jonathan Last notes, NBC’s plugging Jay Leno into their primetime lineup keeps their talk star happy (and things were looking shaky in that department this past summer), and keeps costs down, by reducing the amount of scripted programs the network airs:

I wonder if this is a recessionary move:

Though Mr. Leno will command an enormous salary, probably more than $30 million a year, the cost of his show will be a fraction of what a network pays for dramas at 10 p.m. Those average about $3 million an episode. That adds up to $15 million a week to fill the 10 p.m. hour. Mr. Leno’s show is expected to cost less than $2 million a week.

In addition, NBC will get more weeks of original programming. Network dramas typically make 22 to 24 episodes a year. Under this deal, the executives involved in the discussions said, Mr. Leno will perform 46 weeks a year.

So Leno will give them so much bang for their buck that NBC should be able to accept pretty meager ratings with his show and still be able to justify it on a cost-per-viewer basis.

But the biggest impact of putting Leno in prime-time is that it drastically reduces the available space for scripted prime-time shows. A network only has 15 hours of prime-time a week; this move devotes 33 percent of that space to one show leaving only 10 hours to run existing programs and try out new pick-ups. I don’t know how much time reality programming takes up on NBC each week–I think it’s four hours–and suddenly you have very little space to work in scripted programming.

If you look at the NBC program list, I can’t see how you fit those shows (minus the coming cancellations, even) into the remaining six hours. I suspect that this may mean that NBC will look to run new programming year-round, instead of just during sweeps. It’s the only way I can see them getting it all out with the addition of Leno’s show.

In other television news, I can’t see this move booting the anemically-rated Academy Awards broadcast.