Maybe it’s the pending deal with Comcast or maybe it’s the ratings disaster that was Jay Leno at 10 p.m. last season, but NBC this year opened its pocketbook to put together a schedule that seems to have energized its affiliate base. Said one industry observer: “They’re doing everything they can for the affiliates.”
Almost anything would have been an improvement over last season. Many late newscasts in local markets took big hits with Leno as their lead-in, sending news ratings plummeting on average by 25 percent, according to an analysis by Philadelphia-based Harmelin Media. NBC’s owned-and-operated stations, in some of the nation’s largest markets, may have been hit the hardest, with 40-plus percent declines in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
This year, NBC went back to Hollywood to configure a schedule that is heavy on 10 p.m. dramas, an increasingly tough hour to program due to time shifting. Four of five weeknights have new dramas, including a new Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: Los Angeles on Wednesday, while Tuesdays will feature returning family drama Parenthood. “Late news has come back on certain nights, but this [new schedule] is going to be a big help,” said Jim Carter, president and general manager of WESH, Hearst Television’s NBC affiliate in Orlando, Fla.
“Had Leno dragged on a year or two, it ultimately could have hurt late news long term,” said Brian Lawlor, svp of TV for the E.W. Scripps Co., and the new chairman of the NBC affiliates board. “It seems [NBC] went all out and found programming from producers that have a track record.”
At the very least, NBC left affiliates with the impression that the network invested heavily in new programming. “The collective view was the talent they got behind the scenes and in front of the camera is impressive,” said Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting, owner of 11 NBC affiliates.
Mondays with The Event at 9 p.m. leading into Chase (from Jerry Bruckheimer) got the most kudos from affiliates. “Following Sunday Night Football, Monday is a night where there is a lot of opportunity,” Lawlor said. Added Lougee, “After the trailer for The Event, everyone said, ‘I’m in.’”
The NBC prime-time schedule wasn’t the only thing NBC did last week to cozy up to affiliates. The network didn’t breathe a word about trying to take a percentage of station retransmission dollars like the other TV networks, and it talked to its affiliates about coming up with a long-term 10-year affiliation model. Other discussions centered on new platforms, such as mobile DTV. “It’s encouraging,” Lawlor said.
As for the deal with Comcast, affiliates got an update. “It’s unchartered territory. There will be implications, and we’ll be trying to understand and work through those issues,” Lawlor said.