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Station to Station: For Now, NBC Affils Good as Gold - Broadcasting & Cable

Station to Station: For Now, NBC Affils Good as Gold

The March 1 return of Leno to his old Tonight Show digs has also goosed NBC stations' primetime and late-night ratings.
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After months of lamenting the weak numbers Jay Leno's
primetime program was serving up, general managers at NBC affiliates around the
country are pleased with their Peacock partnership once again. The Olympics, of
course, delivered blockbuster numbers, bolstered by what numerous affiliate
managers say is NBC's expert production of the Winter Games. The March 1 return
of Leno to his old Tonight Show digs has also goosed NBC stations'
primetime and late-night ratings.

"It feels really good to be back in pattern, with Jay on
after late news," says WDIV Detroit VP/General Manager Marla Drutz, who runs
one of the few stations where The Jay Leno Show found an audience in
primetime. "These are the kinds of numbers we've been hoping for. It's a
win-win-win"-in terms of prime, late news and late night.

The Tonight Show did a 10.5 household rating/25 share
March 1 in Detroit,
according to Drutz, and its 4.4 rating in adults 25-54 walloped The Late
Show With David Letterman
's 1.4. Tonight stayed strong on WDIV
Tuesday with an 8.0 rating/20 share.

It was expected that Leno's return to his old job would
result in a substantial ratings bounce; a lineup of high-wattage guests that
included Sarah Palin and telegenic Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White
and Apolo Ohno added to the buzz. "The guests exceeded my expectations," says
NBC affiliates chairman Michael Fiorile.

General managers say the Tonight Show set fit Leno as
well as one of his trademark denim shirts. "It just felt right," says WCBD
Charleston, S.C., VP/General Manager Rick Lipps. "It wasn't awkward, it wasn't
weird," which was how many viewed Leno on his primetime program.

The question, of course, is how long Leno can sustain
significant interest in late night; his 10 p.m. show also had a robust start
before ratings started their free fall. A ratings reduction is inevitable, but
Fiorile thinks Tonight will stand tall for the long term-just as it did
before NBC blew up its schedule. "If they maintain the guest list and the
quality of the show, I'm kind of optimistic Jay will hold onto a lot of it," he
says.

While NBC affiliates adore network mainstays like Today
and NBC Nightly News, primetime has been a well-publicized ratings
sinkhole for years. But putting scripted shows back on at the tail end of
primetime after the Olympics wrapped appears to be helping NBC affiliates get
their late-news mojo back. Several, such as WTHR Indianapolis and WPTV West
Palm Beach, are reclaiming late-news eminency after surrendering the title in
November sweeps.

WTHR tallied an 8.1 household rating/16 share at 11 p.m.
March 3, ahead of WISH's 6.1 rating/12 share. WISH had won the Indianapolis late news race in November.

"I hope the other affiliates are seeing the same results
we're seeing from the [new] schedule," Fiorile says. (In addition to chairing
the affiliates board, Fiorile is president of Dispatch Broadcast Group, which
owns WTHR.)

But putting dramas back on at 10 p.m. is a reminder of the
difficulty NBC has had with that task. WHO Des Moines was another anomaly where
The Jay Leno Show performed well; VP/General Manager Dale Woods is
simply hoping the replacements can post a comparable number. "I'm very concerned
with how the regular prime programming performs," he says. "We're going back to
the shows that didn't work before."

NBC affiliates are mostly encouraged by the early look and
performance of debutants Parenthood and The Marriage Ref-the
former getting some praise from critics, the latter taking some knocks. "NBC is
putting money behind quality scripted programs with name performers and
producers," says WHEC Rochester VP/General Manager Arnold Klinsky. "They're not
doing it on the cheap. We just have to wait and see."

Klinsky speaks for many NBC affiliates when he says
the future looks much brighter than it did a few months ago. "Leno is back to
where he's been successful, and life goes on," he says. "We were much better
off starting Monday than we've been for a long time."

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