Patience is a virtue, but not for NBC

01/11/2010 at 4:15 PM Leave a comment

It’s tough after a hiatus to hit the ground running, but today I’m going to step on my soap box and talk about a recent issue in entertainment that has left me baffled, and, frankly, a bit angry — don’t worry, it is also relevant to advertising.

Recently, NBC declared that Jay Leno would reclaim his 10:30 PM time slot to host a 30-minute-long show and basically leave current Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien with a few options; he can either leave the show altogether and earn a settlement, move to another network or bite the bullet and take the later time slot.

The kicker: the change was announced just five months after O’Brien took over the Tonight Show. To me, this is like the time columnists were criticizing Barack Obama over his performance just weeks after swearing him into office.

As a big fan of Conan O’Brien, I’m as angry as (I’m sure) he is.

Granted, the ratings of the Tonight Show have dropped off significantly since O’Brien took control of the show, but you have to look at the history books to know that the decision to move Leno back was hasty. When Conan grabbed the reigns of Late Night in 1993, he was critically panned for years, but things eventually turned around. He gained a foothold in the late night television time slot and earned a reputation, which eventually gave him the ability to succeed Leno.

I guess this situation can serve as a lesson: the tough thing about advertising and television programming is predictability, or the lack thereof.

In advertising, the unpredictability of the typical consumer is mitigated through countless methods of research.

Television, on the other hand, lives and dies by ratings. Shows that are critically acclaimed can be axed because there are simply not enough viewers to sustain a healthy profit. This form of media, however, has to rely mainly on primary research whether it’s pilot episodes, focus groups or test audiences — and these methods can only take you so far, which is why NBC is now in this situation.

The current situation also poses the question, “Will there be new advertising content to reflect the changes in programming?”

Leaving O’Brien and Leno in this predicament is a public relations nightmare for NBC and its executives, and who is to say that moving Leno back to his old time slot, albeit a more condensed show, will shoot ratings back to the top?

Then again, we do live in the world where fast cash and fast returns are the be-all and  end-all of business decisions. In five months, Leno could be canned for his poor form — predictably is boring, isn’t it?

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