Monday, October 12, 2009

Letterman's tabloid "feeding frenzy," Leno playing for the long haul

The New York Times has a couple of reports this morning on America's most newsworthy talk show hosts. An analysis of Jay Leno's first weeks at 10 PM shows that the former "Tonight" host is bringing in relatively puny ratings, attracting about five million viewers a night. "Though most 10 p.m. shows with those kinds of numbers get canceled, NBC has said from the beginning that it could accept much lower ratings because of the enormous cost savings of Mr. Leno’s show versus expensive hourlong scripted dramas," writes the Times' Bill Carter. However, with only two real prime time hits ("The Biggest Loser" and "The Office"), things are looking relatively bleak at the Peacock Network. NBC Universal Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin insists the network is "still investing in [scripted] programming," adding that "we have to play for the long haul... Jay is doing fine. Conan is doing what we expected him to do. We’re going to look at our average over the full year."

A look at the DVR ratings data suggests that at least NBC was right when they claimed one advantage of the "Leno" hour was that it would attract real live viewers, as opposed to time-shifters who fast forward through the ads. While shows like "Heroes" and "Dollhouse" added huge numbers of viewers when DVR usage was factored in, Leno's bump was essentially zero.

A Times piece by David Carr suggests that David Letterman's biggest tests might still lie ahead, thanks to accused extortionist Joe Halderman's hot-shot lawyer and a tabloid media that seems intent on covering every new twist and turn of the case. Lawrence K. Grossman, a former president of NBC News, says that Letterman "has done an amazing job and will retain both his center of gravity and his audience, much like Johnny [Carson] did," referring to the way the former "Tonight" host poked fun at his own marital misfortunes. But unlike Johnny, "this issue involves the courts, which means that this could drag on for a while and set off a feeding frenzy again and again thanks to the blogs, the cable channels and the tabloids, none of which show any sign of calming down."

Letterman "has lost custody of part of the story and a public process has been initiated that will create numerous opportunities for damaging coverage," writes Carr.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I thought comedy at 10pm sounded like something Id be interested in, EVEN if it was with Leno, but I cant seem to be bothered to even check out the show passingly.

    The Letterman thing wont die down for a LONG time, as the post said, and it sucks how much control the media has over it, instead of the real players in the story. The term "feeding frenzy" is right for this. They all DO resemble sharks, tearing away at their prey.