Jay Leno: Too awful to watch, now or later

NBC execs promised the comedian's talk show would be "DVR-proof." They were right

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 8, 2010 12:15AM (EST)

It's a trending topic on Twitter, so it must be news: "The Jay Leno Show" is in trouble! Since its September debut at the 10 o'clock prime-time slot, Leno's ratings have been low and network affiliates are getting antsy. Now rumors are flying that the show is about to be canceled. The TMZ Web site speculated that Leno might even move back to his 11:30 time slot, ousting Conan O'Brien -- a possibility that appeared to horrify the entire twitterverse. The Wall Street Journal reported that NBC Universal is "reevaluating" the show, and was "'committed' to working with local stations to find ways to 'improve the performance.'"

It's 2010, people! Do we really care about Jay Leno and the future of late night talk show television? I can't say that I do, but I was intrigued at all the tweets poking fun at a statement by NBC exec Ben Silverman last summer boasting that the Leno show would be "totally DVR proof."

Eh? As if that would be a good thing?

A little Googling reveals that NBC figured that a daily topical show would keep viewers glued to live TV, instead of saving episodes for watching later, when they presumably would become stale. And thus, the horror of fast-forwarding through NBC's commercials would be avoided.

Well, the plan worked. "The Jay Leno Show" turned out be one of least DVR-ed shows on television. But not because viewers were afraid to miss anything in-the-moment. They just didn't like the show. To make matters worse, instead of watching Leno, they appeared to be using the time slot as their preferred opportunity to watch other shows that they had previously DVR-ed.

The whole idea of coming up with a "DVR-proof" strategy betrays a remarkable failure on the part of NBC to understand the changing media landscape. The first goal should be to be popular. One sign of popularity is that audiences will be eager to DVR your content. That's the price you pay. Viewers have simply too many entertainment choices to choose from today for it to make any sense to think otherwise.

Evan Young is the director of broadband services at TiVo, so he's obviously got a horse in this race, but his analysis, published way back in June, is on the mark:

Now, I'm not saying that NBC won't achieve some kind of success with Jay Leno at 10pm. But in an age in which we are measuring live+24hour, live+3day, and live+7day ratings anyway, why try to beat the DVR? A program needs to have enough promotion that it is picked up by its core audience, demographic, whatever you want to call it. And then you need to put it in the place (or nowadays, multiple places) where they are most likely to consume it. If production values matter, then hopefully that is the television, in HD. But the growing popularity of online venues for television such as Hulu.com, ABC.com, and MySpace for viewing, as well as the broadband viewing of shows on TiVo... shows that viewers refuse to be shackled to the schedule or even to the broadcast delivery mechanism.

The revolution will not be DVR-proofed. Live with it.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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