Affiliates Stand With NBC on Leno

Would love primetime local newscast, but want to see Jay fly

NBC affiliates largely seem to side with the network on the recent flap concerning WHDH Boston and Jay Leno. While WHDH announced late last week it planned to debut a 10 p.m. nightly news instead of the new Leno program come fall, the Sunbeam-owned station appears to be alone in its public defiance of the network. (WHDH may have backtracked from its initial stance; the announcement of its 10 p.m. program no longer appears on WHDH.com).

Several managers at NBC affiliates privately say a 10 p.m. news would be far more lucrative than Leno's as-yet untitled program, especially with the affiliates owning the ad inventory. But they say they remain committed to seeing Leno succeed. "We have a contract, and we respect and honor that," says WOOD Grand Rapids VP/General Manager Diane C. Kniowski. "We look forward to seeing how the network will make it a great product."

The word most GMs offer up when discussing Leno's pending program is "consistent"-the show likely won't be a smash, but the NBC funnyman's wide appeal should prevent it from being a bomb too. NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile says the timely and topical nature of the program will make it essentially DVR-proof.

"It's a safe-harbor type of program," says WCBD Charleston VP/General Manager Rick Lipps. "If it's not #1, at least it's not #3, and it should be better than 80-90% of the new shows the networks put out there."

While they remain frustrated with NBC's inability to find a hit, general managers say relations with the network have been good. They're pleased to see a committee within the NBC affiliates board working on aspects of the Leno program. "The network has been working closely with the affiliate body to work out our concerns," says WRCB Chattanooga President/General Manager Tom Tolar. "I think those will be dealt with, and I think the Leno show will help local news here."

Affiliates around the country said WHDH's announcement took them by surprise, and did not know of another NBC affiliate that planned to stand with WHDH and defy the network. (A Sunbeam TV spokesperson said president Ed Ansin "still had no comment"; WHDH GM Chris Wayland did not return a call for comment at presstime as to whether the station still planned to stick with the 10 p.m. news). Said one Midwestern GM privately, "Why would we walk? We haven't even seen the show yet. Everyone's making assumptions that it'll be the same show [as The Tonight Show]."

NBC affiliate managers point out that, with owned stations in seven of the top ten markets, the network has considerable skin in the game. "NBC is in this as much as we are," says Lipps. "They're not going to let it flounder."