Despite some rough Jay Leno Show ratings around the
country, the NBC affiliates are largely still exhibiting patience before
calling the rookieprograma hit or a miss. General managers at
NBC stations say there are too many wildcards, such as Daylight Savings Time
and the Major League Baseball post-season, to get an accurate reading on the
show right now.
"I'm still optimistic," says WKYC Cleveland
President/General Manager Brooke Spectorsky. "It's still early-we haven't
gotten the time change yet, and we haven't had the awful weather. It's always
dangerous to make a statement before the weather gets ugly."
The "Leno Effect," the phrase critics are using to describe The
Jay Leno Show's drain on local late news, is now part of the lexicon,
thanks to a cavalcade of negative media reports about the rookie strip. Various
dispatches have mentioned WTVJ Miami seeing a 30% slide in late news, compared
to last year; KNBC Los Angeles witnessing a 26% dip; and WNBC New York off 22%.
While most outside of the 24 Local People Meter markets will
have to wait for the November sweeps to end before getting a fair reading on
the show, some GMs cop to a mounting feeling of anxiety regarding Leno.
"It's not quite what we've been promised," says WSAZ Charleston-Huntington (W.Va.) VP/General
Manager Don Ray, who acknowledges that Leno is a work in progress. "It
needs to be more topical, and the production is sometimes lacking."
Others tell a happier tale. WCBD Charleston (S.C.) VP/General
Manager Rick Lipps says anecdotal evidence in his diary market suggests Leno's
a hit, both with viewers and advertisers. "I've read the articles and heard the
spin (about the Leno effect), but I go into my sales manager's office, and he
tells me we're selling out Leno, we're tight in Leno," says
Lipps. "That's the bottom line-it works where it counts."
Most affiliates are sticking to the party line they've
uttered since the show was announced last year: The Jay Leno Show
is a long-term play that should be judged after several months, not weeks.
NBC's performance in the 10 p.m. hour is down over last year in multiple
markets, but GMs at NBC affiliates are quick to point out that viewing is down
across the board in many markets, thanks to a stronger batch of cable
offerings, increased DVR penetration and the growing array of attention-sucking
gadgets available to the public.
WKYC's 10 p.m. hour is off a little more than 10% compared
to last year, says Spectorsky, but all-important late news is pretty much flat.
WJAR Providence has seen late news off in the single digits, but VP/General
Manager Lisa Churchville suspects that's more about her prime lead-in butting
up against Major League Baseball.
"We're getting nice numbers [for Leno]," she says.
"We're not dissatisfied."
NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile, sounding
weary of addressing the Leno effect, says the affiliate group is not panicking.
"It's early," he says. "We'll look at it when November's over. If it improves
the way we hope it will, we're in it for the long haul. If not, we'll take a
A key selling point for Jay Leno is that it's fresh
for 46 weeks out of the year, though some general managers were alarmed to see
it fail to rise when CBS offered a batch of reruns the week of Oct. 26. One
said ABC gained viewers, but the local NBC did not. Others are concerned about
viewership dropping off throughout the course of the program-a sticking point
that the affiliates, and Jay himself-worked hard to address in shaping the
show. It's believed that a number of viewers are watching Jay's monologue and
other early bits before dialing up DVR'd programming.
While it's hard to discount the importance of a robust
lead-in, NBC affiliates have long learned to lure late-news viewers on their
own merits. "If you're going to be a leading station, the lead-in helps," says
WXII Winston-Salem President/General Manager Hank Price. "But you have to do it
on your own."
A local powerhouse like WSAZ, which grabs around 40% of the
revenue in the No. 65 DMA (according to BIA Financial), will get viewers to
tune into late news no matter what airs before it. But others don't have that
"Viewers always seem to have found us," says WSAZ's
Ray. "But for general NBC affiliates, I really worry about those folks."