NBC Affils Launch Study to Shape 'Leno'

Concerns remain about 10 p.m. talk show as late news lead-in

Hoping for unprecedented input into Jay Leno's fall primetime program, the NBC affiliates board has launched an exhaustive research study designed to keep local newscasts from suffering due to the network's decision to move Leno to 10 p.m. A committee that includes Scripps TV Senior VP Brian Lawlor and Post-Newsweek Stations President/CEO Alan Frank is awaiting results of the survey.

“NBC has promised the affiliates' input into the structure of the show, and we believe this research will help us represent the key drivers that will best flow a Jay Leno viewer into affiliates' local late news,” Lawlor says.

Of course, how much Leno and NBC will listen is up in the air. An NBC network spokesperson declined to comment.

Affiliates were split on the idea of Leno taking over the 10 p.m. slot when it was announced in December, many fearing it will never be a ratings smash in a time slot vital for serving up viewers to local late news.

So the study was put forth, including one question asking viewers how 13 elements of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno figure in their decision to tune in. The parts include Leno's monologue, celebrity guests and “Jaywalking.” Another one asks viewers if watching local news plays a part in their decision to tune in to The Tonight Show.

The survey will conclude in the coming weeks. “Once we get our arms around the research, we'll sit down with NBC and figure out what we both want to see and what decisions will be made,” Lawlor says.

The affiliates board is adamant about addressing The Tonight Show's tendency to lose viewers toward the end, which will be partially mitigated with Leno on 95 minutes earlier in the fall. One survey question zeroes in on how long viewers watch Tonight, offering 11 different points for tuning out. Respondents are asked if they stick around through the first or second guest, whether they watch through Jay's “Headlines,” whether they watch until the end, or even stay on for Late Night With Conan O'Brien after Jay.

Affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile says the study will help reveal what the ideal length of Leno's monologue would be, what time the monologue should air and how the program's breaks should be structured.

The affiliates board meets April 21 in Las Vegas, and the NBC affiliates themselves meet May 19 in New York. The affiliates have frequently clashed with the network in the past, primarily about NBC's inability to jump-start its primetime offerings.

But they were pleased to hear that their board would have a say in the Leno show's architecture. Board members say NBC is in the loop on the research project, and that network-affiliate relations have been constructive.

“NBC has been very receptive,” Fiorile says. “They're giving us a say, and they've been very open to our participation.”