Leno: The new king of prime time - Americas - World - The Independent

Leno: The new king of prime time

By giving Jay Leno its prized 10pm slot, NBC is recognising the power of a brilliant comic – and the demise of US TV drama

The American entertainment industry is adjusting its collective television set to the startling news from the NBC network that Jay Leno, who is to end his reign as host of The Tonight Show in less than six months time, has been given a new talk show at the much earlier primetime hour of 10pm.

For no less than 15 years, Leno has been the host of Tonight, arguably the most precious franchise on US network television. He replaced Johnny Carson amid enormous ceremony in 1993. Fans were told almost five years ago that come 2009, he would be replaced by Conan O'Brien, who has a show after Leno's. He will still do so, starting the night of 1 June.

Then NBC announced yesterday that Leno, 58, is not leaving the network after all. Instead, they are giving him a whole new talk show, every week night before The Tonight Show goes out at 11.30pm.

This is not just a matter of schedule fiddling. The networks regularly shuffle programmes around to see how they can maximise ratings. Anything to stop the viewers getting too complacent about what they expect to see. But to give a whole primetime hour to one show – inthis case, to one person really – every weekday night is something not seen for a very long time. It signals, in fact, a whole new programming strategy that may thrill the older aficionados of Leno but will appal fans of drama and all those who contribute to its creation, including actors, agents, writers and designers.

Until now, the 10pm hour on NBC as well as on its main competitors – ABC and CBS – was precisely for drama. Shows that were conceived for this "adult" portion of primetime have over the years included the likes of ER, Hill Street Blues, LA Law and Law & Order and its spin-offs. All were made by NBC and all became legendary shows that were exported around the world.

The network may have offered the prized slot to Leno because it, like everyone else, had heard the rumours that he was considering offers from rivals, including ABC and Fox. But most observers saw the announcement as being much more about money, and saving it.

The network, owned by General Electric, is feeling the economic downturn as keenly as any media company. While the new contract with Leno is believed to be at least as generous as the one he has now, having him command the schedule five nights a week will save NBC a considerable chest of money. Every hour of new drama generally costs in the region of $5m to produce. Indeed, on Monday Jeffrey Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal, told a media conference in New York that his network was considering ending its commitment to producing proprietary programming for all seven days of the week. Programme-making has become too expensive.

There is also the reality that drama at 10pm has not been faring as well as it used to. On top of all the other factors eroding the ratings for the main networks, including competition from the cable and the internet, research shows that Americans at that hour are increasingly watching programmes from earlier in the night they have saved on digital recording devices.

A glimpse at the ER numbers tells the story to some degree. Where once the medical drama captured an audience in the US of nearly 25 million, it now draws 10 million or fewer.

Much newer shows given the 10pm slot at NBC have not done well either, especially in this latest autumn season. The network had great hopes of a new Christian Slater vehicle, My Own Worst Enemy, as well as a second season of Lipstick Jungle, a pale and barely gripping sequel to Sex and the City. Both nosedived. Both shows have been cancelled for good, as has ER.

As NBC unveiled its shell-game manoeuvres there was no word from Leno himself. Nor did we hear from O'Brien who had thought that come June he would at last no longer be the man following Leno. Instead that is exactly what he will be doing again. But at least, it eliminates the potentially more damaging prospect of Leno popping up on a different network to compete directly against him.

Leno, one assumes, is altogether content. His main fan base, after all, was, like him, getting greyer and the ordeal of waiting for his show to begin was getting all the more intolerable. Indeed, the showcasing of Leno at 10pm – when the overall television audience is generally 50 per cent greater than at 11.30 – may signal a shift in the bedtime habits of America generally.

Political campaign managers will also not be displeased with the earlier time slot. The Tonight Show and its main competition over on CBS, the Late Show with David Letterman, have become an obligatory stop for political candidates in recent years, including Barack Obama and John McCain.

Among politicians who went on Leno to declare their candidacies are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fred Thompson. Maybe the latter would have fared better if more people had been awake at the time.

Jay Leno: In his own words

* "Bush is smart. I don't think that Bush will ever be impeached, 'cos unlike Clinton, Reagan, or even his father, George W is immune from scandal. Because, if George W testifies that he had no idea what was going on, wouldn't you believe him?"

* "According to New York publishers, Bill Clinton will get more money for his book than Hillary Clinton got for hers. Well, duh. At least his book has some sex in it."

* "Here's something to think about: How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?"

* "The reason there are two senators for each state is so that one can be the designated driver."

* "More coming out about Saddam Hussein. We now know he takes Viagra and he has as many as six mistresses. No wonder Congress is reluctant to take action against this guy – he's one of their own."

* "Bush reiterated his stand to conservatives opposing his decision on stem cell research. He said today he believes life begins at conception and ends at execution."

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week