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NBC Late Night Drama May Provide Boost in Ratings

Though NBC is has having a PR hiccup with their late night dilemma, the long term benefit of the fallout could reward the struggling network handsomely.

NBC is terminating their low-cost experiment otherwise known as The Jay Leno Show in its 10 p.m slot. The show has earned poor ratings along with a backlash and a near revolt from local TV affiliates who said the Leno Show hurt their 11 o’clock newscasts. Meanwhile, Leno’s successor on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien, has had thin ratings since taking over as host, allowing rival CBS and David Letterman to surge ahead in the ratings. NBC has made the controversial decision to bump Leno to Conan’s current time slot, which would, in effect, return Leno to his former position, pushing back Conan and Jimmy Fallon one hour. Conan has publicly stated that he will not go along with what he called “the destruction of The Tonight Show.”

Yet the problems may come with a benefit for the network in the form of more viewers to NBC, said media executives and advertising gurus. That will be needed if NBC spends $10 million to $20 million on a settlement with Conan.

Network executives think NBC will put on staple programming like Law & Order in the 10 p.m. position until they have new scripted programming.

“While we don’t anticipate that NBC’s ratings fall will completely reverse as they introduce new 10 p.m. programming and return Jay Leno to late-night, these changes could slightly impact NBC’s competitors who have gained relative share on the national and local level,” says Michael Nathanson, an analyst with Bernstein.

He added: “No doubt, a stronger 10 p.m. show could help the NBC station owner and negatively affect rival CBS, ABC and FOX local stations including owned and operated stations.”

“In the short-term, the network’s going to take a hit,” says Nathanson. “They’re radically changing their schedule on short notice, but longer term, they’ll put scripted programming and the best of their pilots on and they’ll come out ahead of where they are now.

“Looking into the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 season, the network should be re-programmed and rescheduled and should be getting higher ratings than what they have been with Leno at 10 p.m.,” he said.

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