Daytime Confidential's Sean posted this news before I could do so, but I was so flabbergasted by this new bit of Bizarro-World business that I had to post a follow-up.
Hot on the heels of the news of NBC Universal president Jeff Zucker's revelation that the network is considering reducing its broadcast schedule by hours per week or reducing days comes the eyebrow raising news via The New York Times and other outlets that Jay Leno is staying with the network after Conan O'Brien takes over The Tonight Show in 2009.
As Sean pointed out, Leno's new show — which will look almost exactly like The Tonight Show — will air every week night at 10PM starting next fall. Seriously.
In order to figure out how this might impact Days of Our Lives, a bit of an examination of how NBC's potential prime time schedule might be affected by this move could point us in a clearer direction of its intentions toward the soap. In all honesty, the following is speculation but it is based on what Zucker himself said about these issues just yesterday.
Now let me see if I have this right and I want someone to correct me if I am wrong. Zucker seems to think that America is so in love with Leno that they want to see him every night in prime time, leading into local news leading into Conan's version of The Tonight Show leading into Jimmy Fallon's version of Late Night. Somehow, this is supposed to be compatible with their consideration of cutting down broadcast hours or broadcast days.
The Times article points out that Leno's show alone would reduce NBC's need to fill broadcast time from 22 hours a week to 17, but keep in mind that is only if NBC keeps its current schedule intact. The article suggests that Leno's show itself provides the reduction in broadcast hours Zucker might be seeking, but somehow I'm not convinced that is the case. Remember, what Zucker said just yesterday?
"Can we continue to broadcast 22 hours in primetime? Three of our competitors don't," Zucker said during Monday's keynote at the annual UBS media conference. "Can we continue to broadcast seven days a week? One of our competitors don't."
Something tells me Zucker really is moving full speed ahead with cutting down the actual number of hours NBC broadcasts as a network or he would not have confirmed the internal discussions about it, whether it fully comes to pass or not.
So how would this Leno prime time show look under a reduced broadcast schedule?
If NBC were to adopt the FOX/CW model of two hours of prime time, that means NBC would have a schedule of 6 hours of programming, excluding The Today Show and Meet the Press (which are cash cows), Sundays which are primarily dominated by football and Saturdays where the network only programs original episodes of Saturday Night Live. So a potential typical Monday-Friday week on NBC would look like this:
Heroes/Leno; Deal or No Deal/Leno; Law & Order SVU/Leno; Law & Order/Leno; My Name is Earl/Kath & Kim/The Office/30 Rock/Leno; Dateline/Leno.
Let's say NBC were to adopt the CW model of four nights a week of programming. A potential schedule could consist of the following:
Heroes/Leno; Deal or No Deal/Leno; Law & Order/Leno; Law & Order SVU/Leno; My Name is Earl/Kath & Kim/The Office/30 Rock/Leno.
(The latter scenario begs an obvious question: if Leno's new show is to air 5 nights a week per a contractual obligation, would Leno automatically inherit a Sunday 10PM slot if Friday were to go by the wayside?)
The NYT lays out in very good detail why Leno's new show makes a lot of sense for the network from a financial perspective. But...
Does Zucker think that he can build a prime time schedule anchored by one man five nights a week?
The television viewing audience plays hopscotch between broadcast, basic and premium cable more than ever. DVR, iTunes and other time shifted means of entertainment consumption are on the rise. A lot of people don't watch these shows in their regular time slots anyway. However, networks still build brand loyalty. You go to CBS for procedurals and traditionalist shows, HBO and FX for cutting edge fare, ABC for women friendly series and adventure, and Fox has the market cornered on being in your face. What does NBC stand for now? Nothing But Cheap?
This move with Leno means that Zucker is proceeding with all deliberate speed to reduce the amount of programming the network does instead of that strategy merely being "under consideration." Cutting Days looks to be one of Zucker's easiest paths to further reducing broadcast hours even if the current prime time schedule model were to remain intact. If I am right, I think this news in prime time with Leno and late night is a harbinger that Days may live on in some form after its recent 18 month contract renewal is up, but it is my opinion that it won't be on the NBC television network.