Disclosure: I am not a fan of Jay Leno. I once stopped dating a woman because she preferred Leno over Conan. I guess this belief is acceptable in someone younger than 83, but until that age there is no excuse. In absolute terms I guess Leno is not so bad. But not compared to Conan. And not in Prime Time. NBC has now committed both crimes.
The interwebs are abuzz with talk of Leno in Prime Time and I, too, have a couple of thoughts. No, one thought: it sucks. For a couple of reasons.
First, it means people out of work. Producing a normal show requires many more people than producing a variety show requires. NBC, in its attempt to spin this move positively, makes precisely this argument. A variety show is much less costly and so even if it drops viewership in that time slot, it can afford to do so and still turn more of a profit than anything else would have earned. Here ‘profit’ means less labor costs to make up in revenue. That sucks. The very cheapness of the Leno show means we ought not watch it because it represents a corporation’s thought that we not only deserve lower quality but will gladly reward them for downgrading us.
My second problem with it is that it represents NBC’s resignation. The business model for TV is changing and profits are dwindling. But, this does not mean that TV is dead. There are numerous shows on TV that make money. Lots of money. And then there are shows that are like those money-makers that may also make money. NBC has given up though. By moving The Tonight Show into that spot NBC has signaled its lack of willingness to try and break ground. They have gone back on decades of programming wisdom and stopped trying to produce good shows and instead just produce sure-things, even though a Lost like show is also a sure-thing.
Some will say that it’s business and they’re in the business of making money. Blah blah. It’s about making money off of the art of storytelling. Art needs to be fresh and experimental. TV is still profitable. NBC was still make money, what they have decided to do, however, is to give up and accept the changing current. Maybe the current will sweep TV aside and maybe that cannot be halted. Maybe they should try.
I own a TV but I do not have cable because I watch all of my shoes online. For free without commercials. However, there are some shows that I will watch online only in ways that provide advertising revenue to the distributor: Lost, Rescue Me, Defying Gravity (still giving it a chance) and Burn Notice. There is money to be made off of me and NBC has ceded that potential away.