NBC's Leno drama might have a happy ending

Thu Jan 14, 2010 2:48am EST
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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC's late-night TV troubles are proving embarrassing and costly for the network -- but the drama could pay dividends down the road.

NBC is scrapping its cost-cutting experiment that put "The Jay Leno Show" on TV at 10 p.m. because the show earned poor ratings and backlash from local TV stations that said it hurt the 11 o'clock newscasts that followed. NBC also remains the last of the four big U.S. TV networks in audience ratings.

But the disaster might come with a benefit: it could draw more viewers to the network, media executives and advertising experts said.

"Controversy is sometimes great PR and could reinvigorate Leno's show. More viewers may turn in out of curiosity," said Gabelli & Co analyst Christopher Marangi.

That would provide some comfort to NBC, which faces the prospect of spending $10 million to $20 million to reach a settlement with Conan O'Brien.

The current host of "The Tonight Show" has refused to go along with NBC's plan to push his show back to 12:05 a.m. to accommodate Leno's return to his old time slot.

"The Tonight Show" audience has thinned since O'Brien took over in June, allowing rival David Letterman on CBS to take the lead in the battle for late-night network viewers.

Analysts and industry executives think that NBC will put on a tried-and-true staple like "Law & Order" at 10 p.m. until they have new scripted programing in place. Some believe the move could boost NBC in the hot market for last-minute ad spots at the expense of its competitors.   Continued...