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NBC affiliates feeling pain from Jay Leno move

October 19, 2009 |  9:44 am

Call it the Jay Leno effect.

NBC's gamble to shift the late-night talk-show host to 10 p.m. may work out for the network's bottom line, but it's a different story for its affiliates. Many affiliates have seen their local news ratings drop by double-digits compared to a year ago. And while erosion across the broadcast TV landscape is nothing new, these declines suggest something deeper.

LENOSTEINBERG Leno's new show averaged about 5.6 million viewers through the first four days of last week, less than half the audience it attracted when it premiered and more than a third less than the audience that NBC drew last season with its longtime schedule of drama shows. The network says the declines are in line with expectations and cautions patience as viewers discover the new time slot for the talk-show king.

NBC has maintained that programming Leno five nights a week in prime time is more about economics than ratings. A talk show is less costly to produce than the hourlong dramas the network used to air. That being the case, Leno does not have to do as well as NBC's dramas did for the move to be a financial success.

Also, Leno will be on with original episodes for about 46 weeks of the year, compared with the 22 to 24 weeks of original episodes a network gets from a typical drama show.

But while that may be fine for NBC, affiliates need strong 10 p.m. programs to boost their late news. Local news accounts for more than one-third of a TV station's revenue.

"I don't think anybody is going to say having Jay Leno at the 10 o'clock hour has been a positive," said Bill Carroll, a vice president at Katz Television Group, a media buying and consulting firm that advises local stations on programming.

For more on how Leno is impacting late news and what cities are really taking a hit, see our story in today's Los Angeles Times.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Jay Leno. Credit: Dan Steinberg / Associated Press