Struggling NBC takes the Leno leap

Mon Sep 14, 2009 1:29pm EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - So far, so impressive. After only a handful of fall premieres, broadcasters already have two reasons to celebrate: Fox's "Glee" and the CW's "The Vampire Diaries" debuted to strong numbers last week, suggesting that perhaps the coming weeks won't be a repeat of last fall's disappointing returns.

Wednesday night's conceptually risky "Glee" (7.5 million viewers) was the network's highest-rated scripted fall series premiere in three years, and Thursday's "Vampire Diaries" (4.9 million) was the CW's most-watched series premiere.

Both scored well in the networks' internal "intent to view" tracking polls leading up to their premieres, which should give other shows that rank higher on that list some hope. Fox's animated spinoff "The Cleveland Show" is currently at the top, followed by CBS' crime-drama spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles," NBC's comedy "Community," ABC's sci-fi drama "V" and ABC's mystery series "FlashForward."

All of NBC's new shows are on among the top 10 in the poll, which bodes well for the network's mission to climb from fourth place this fall. But fans said there were more likely to watch NBC's new dramas and comedy than the network's most crucial gamble, "The Jay Leno Show," which premieres Monday night.

How many viewers will watch Leno is the biggest guessing game in town. Most agree the talk-show host's premiere will draw a crowd (after all, Conan O'Brien taking over "The Tonight Show" attracted plenty of curiosity in May). The question is where Leno will settle during the coming weeks.

NBC has defined success as Leno doing as well or better than he performed as host of "Tonight," which would mean averaging 5.2 million viewers. But if NBC winds up with significantly lower average ratings at 10 p.m. with "Leno" and 11:35 p.m. with "Tonight" under O'Brien, will anybody outside of NBC consider the maneuvering a success?

What would be ironic is if NBC rebounded this fall thanks to its new scripted programing, while its heavily promoted, drama-replacing weeknight talk show struggled.

In the coming weeks, each network faces unique challenges.   Continued...

<p>Host Jay Leno answers a reporter's question during a panel for his upcoming television series "The Jay Leno Show" at the Television Critics Association Cable summer press tour in Pasadena, August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>