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What research by NBC affiliates about Jay Leno at 10 p.m. really found

January 21, 2010 | 11:15 am

So last spring when NBC was gearing up to move Jay Leno from late night to prime time, the network's affiliates conducted some research to see what having the former "Tonight Show" host on at 10 p.m. would mean to their late local news.

LENO The results, as touted by the trade press, showed that Leno could be very good to 11 p.m. newscasts. We thought we'd check in with the research firm to see if they were still standing by that.

"I believe what we actually talked about at the time was there was potential for Leno to be sampled and if those viewers liked the show, they'd stay for local news," said Dan Greenberg, co-president of Norman Hecht Research Inc. "It was a very realistic study, it made the affiliates feel Leno would get sampled."

The affiliates needed research to tell them Leno would get sampled?

Seriously, what wasn't reported was that Greenberg's research also showed that if Leno didn't perform well at 10 p.m., the local news would get hammered. 

"It corroborates what you see in the ratings," Greenberg said in response to whether its research had foresight into what the negative effect of Leno's prime-time show could be on the local stations if things didn't go well.

"We’re not known as the good news company," Greenberg said.

As for whether the NBC affiliates whose late local news has taken a pounding can recover, Greenberg said "they can," but a lot would depend on how well NBC can rebuild its 10 p.m. hour. In other words, for all the talk about local anchors and their connection to the communities they serve, viewers have very little loyalty.

"Late news is the most lead-in driven of all local news," Greenberg explained.

That doesn't sound too encouraging.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Jay Leno. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press