'BCS,' NBC Blitz Leno

Rash Report: Peacock Network Appears to Call an Audible on Day of Big Game

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Thursday TV's grid was expected to include some scrambling. But it was supposed to be on the gridiron in the big BCS title game on ABC, not from NBC, which got blitzed by reports that it is considering canceling the prime-time version of "The Jay Leno Show" and moving it back to late night, which would in turn move back "The Tonight Show" half an hour, as its host, Conan O'Brien, also got sacked in the ratings race.

The BCS Championship game on ABC sacked the competition.
The BCS Championship game on ABC sacked the competition. Credit: AP
"Leno's" -- and Leno's -- poor performance is due to many reasons. But mainly the show never became the prime-time town square for pop culture and even politics. It started off strong, not just in the ratings but in buzz, as Jay's interview with Kanye West, in which his silence was deafening when his late mother was evoked in a provocative question, should have been a TV template of how "Leno" would become the place for those in the news to immediately go to confront or confess their stories. Instead, it was the usual parade of plugging new movies or returning TV shows, as well as Leno's "Jaywalking" and other innocuous signature bits.

Comfortable? Usually. Compelling? Rarely. And this lack of alacrity dried up the water cooler buzz that was essential for "Leno" to not only break through the cultural clutter, but lead it.

If and once the scheduling shakeup is confirmed, the program problems spawned by the failure of "Leno" aren't just contained to his 10 p.m. slot and the ripple effect in late night. NBC's lone drama that was working in "Leno's" slot, "Law and Order: SVU," has diminished demographically at 9 p.m. And NBC would now have five hours of dramas to develop, in addition to the regular replacement shows for clunkers such as "Trauma," which has been canceled, and "Mercy," which might.

But if this is NBC's winter of discontent, hope may yet still spring eternal, as the network now has a blank canvas it can offer to the most creative minds in entertainment. Given the right ambassador (especially in light of its abrupt cancellation of Jon Well's "Southland") to rebuild ties to the creative community, and the promise of Comcast's deep distribution opportunities (as well as deep pocketbook), NBC's future may actually be brighter today than yesterday.

Whatever drama they eventually choose for Thursday night, it probably will run a repeat next year against the BCS Championship, as most of ABC's ratings rivals did. This was wise, given the 10.2/25 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic for the prime-time portion of the BCS Championship (base on Nielsen fast affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data released Friday afternoon to reflect the post-prime portion). If this holds, it will represent a 7% spike from last year's game on Fox, and is just the latest indication that prime-time sports are increasingly a raison d'ĂȘtre for a broadcast business model under assault.

Coupled with the BCS Championship pre-game (6.4/18), ABC finished first with an overall 9.5/24. As for the benched starters on other networks? CBS was second with a 2.1/5 (two "CSI" second showings, 1.9/5 and 2.3/5, as well as a 2.2/6 for a rerun of "The Mentalist"); Fox fourth with a 1.4/3 ("Bones," 1.7/5 and "Fringe," 1.0/3) and the CW (0.6/2) fifth ("Vampire Diaries," 0.7/2 and "Supernatural," 0.6/1).

As for NBC (third, 1.5/4), after running reruns of its sitcom lineup ("Community," 1.7/5; "Parks and Recreation," 1.3/3; "The Office" and "30 Rock," 1.7/4), it actually ran the only non-sports original episode of the night.

The show? "Jay Leno," which was last in its timeslot with a 1.4/4.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Friday: A big NBC star jumps to prime time and is really funny! Check out Brian Williams at 10 p.m. (Oh yeah, Jay Leno will be there, too.)
Saturday and Sunday: Reruns. No, not the dreary Saturday night schedule, but rematches of last week's Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals football games, as all improbably play each other again in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

It might not be a good omen that the first returning episode of NBC's "Chuck" is listed as "Chuck Versus the Pink Slip." But that's what it will face unless it finds new fans with its new formula. NBC brings it back Sunday night, with it slated to move to Monday night at 8 p.m.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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