When NBC announced the format of The Jay Leno Show, the network made it a point to note that it would be turning the structure from The Tonight Show on its head. While it would start with a monologue, the network said Jay would save the signature comedy bits for the end of the episode in order to provide the strongest news lead-in for its local affiliates.
“The signature pieces people like such as ‘Headlines,’ ‘Jay Walking,’ those will be the pieces that bring us into the 11 o’clock news,” Leno said at the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in August. “We want to provide a strong lead-in for the 11 o’clock news.”
Indeed, since its launch September 14 launch, Leno has presented Headlines every Monday night as the last segment of the show.
However, on Monday, November 9, the show finally broke from that mold, and returned to a format much closer to that of Leno’s Tonight Show. As usual, the program opened with Leno’s monologue, followed by a commercial break. Then, just as on Tonight, Leno presented Headlines, less than 15 minutes into the program. That was followed by another commercial break, before welcoming Kathy Griffin on as his first guest.
The first half hour or so of Monday’s Jay Leno Show was nearly identical to the first half hour of Leno’s Tonight Show.
A spokesperson for NBC says that Headlines will be towards the front of the show again next week (Nov. 16). Other episodes will feature a retooled format as well, with certain comedy bits and interviews appearing earlier or later than they normally would.
Nielsen fast nationals data shows that Leno averaged a 1.2/3 rating/share, with the second (Headlines-free) half hour dropping to a 1.1/3. The 1.2 rating matched a series low.
The second half of the show returned to the more normal Leno format, with Griffin taking the “green car challenge” in the next segment, followed by a satellite interview with Diablo Cody and another comedy bit about internet videos closing out the show.
Of course, as NBC executives (and Leno himself) have noted, it is the long haul that matters. Maybe shifting the format to something more in line with Tonight can help boost its ratings, or maybe it won’t.
Regardless, it looks as though NBC and Leno are taking the ratings and affiliate feedback seriously and tweaking the show. How it plays out will have to wait for another day.