Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Leno in Daily Prime Time is Revolutionary Move

Jay Leno's move to prime time, with a five-evening a week 10pm show on NBC, is the most significant development in network television programming in decades. Far more significant than just a new series, a daily interview show in prime time on a network is revolutionary, a shake-up of the very programming logic of television, that we haven't seen in decades.

NBC's 1am "Tomorrow" with Tom Snyder in 1970s and ABC's "Nightline" with Ted Koppel in the 1980s are the most recent examples that come to mind. Those two shows changed the nature of late-night programming by putting on news, and paved the way for all-news cable. But late-night draws fewer viewers than prime time.

Leno's new show will compete with cable news - a rerun of Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC, but the first runs Anderson Cooper's "360" on CNN, and Greta Van Susteren on Fox. Indeed, I think Leno's new show can be considered as much a migration of cable to network as late night network to prime time. The success of NBC's Saturday Night Live forays into prime time is a recent precursor of this move.

There's also no doubt that the politics-comedy-interview mix is in the air. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been soaring for years.

Network television, in general, has not. It has been losing viewers. Will Leno at 10pm staunch the tide?

It will be fun to see.
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