Jay Leno is a great guy. He's one of the true good people in a business that is sorely lacking in them.
He's just not very funny.
Leno, whose 10:00 p.m. show on NBC just got the ziggy and will be moved back to its more familiar (and comfortable) 11:35 p.m. time slot, has run his course. At best, he was simply ill-suited for 10:00. At worst, his horrific ratings at the earlier slot is a portend of things to come, even when he moves back to 11:35.
It used to be that Leno ran neck-and-neck with Dave Letterman and was the Coke to Dave's Pepsi, or vice-versa. Now Jay is more like RC Cola. Maybe Diet RC Cola.
NBC had to pull the plug on Jay at 10:00. No, really---they had to. Or else they'd have affiliate reps from across the country storming 30 Rock with pitchforks and torches.
Jay Leno was a magician at 10:00 for the affiliates. He made their 11:00 news ratings go away.
There were some stations who fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in their market when it came to local news, all because of Leno's anemic lead-in. It was affecting their bottom line, because advertising dollars were vanishing.
The network couldn't go on any longer in that fashion.
So what happened?
The game plan was that moving Leno to 10:00 would expose him to a new audience, which, ironically, was old. The folks who turn in before 11:35 were to get a nightly dose of Leno, read: the seniors, or at least those above 50 years of age. The move to 10:00 was to open up all sorts of doors for Leno and his brand of humor.
Instead, it merely exposed him.
I like Jay Leno, I really do. He's comfortable. But he has short shelf life. He simply can't carry a 60-minute show anymore. That's very evident by the numbers of viewers who were a million miles away from NBC by the time 10:58 and the tease for the local 11:00 news came around.
Leno still gives a decent monologue. His delivery is still charming and even his constant and blatant glance toward his cue cards are forgivable by now. Jay does OK, until around 10:15 and later. And NBC hasn't had a 15-minute show on its airwaves since the Eisenhower Administration.
The nightly shticks were painful to watch, some of them. The others were tolerable. Even the physical setting---Jay and his guest sitting across from each other in comfy chairs like a photo opportunity between the president and a leader from a foreign country---fell flat. Jay's a behind-the-desk guy, like so many of his brethren. So put him behind a desk!
But this is 10:00 and you have to change for change's sake---or so NBC thought. They didn't have the guts to simply move Jay's 11:35 show, as is, and place it 95 minutes earlier on the schedule. I bet they wish they had now.
The punchline is that simply moving Leno back to 11:35, necessitating, by the way, moves by Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon, may not be the panacea. There's no telling how many viewers Leno has lost, who may not come back, even at 11:35.
NBC took a gamble and it lost. I bet the network didn't think it was much of a gamble at all, however. Moving Jay Leno from 11:35 to 10:00 must have seemed relatively safe to them.
But they fixed that which was never broke, and monkeyed around with Leno's show so much as to make it almost unrecognizable to Jay's faithful viewers. It was a double whammy; NBC failed to impress the untapped viewer, and also drove away the regulars.
That's quite a feat.