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NBC! OMG! WTF?

NBC! OMG! WTF?

It seems lipeacockke every year around this time we start bemoaning the End of Media As We Know It, but this year has a little more resonance. Just like mainstream America didn’t know how deeply the investment banks were in trouble until Bear Stearns went under, we didn’t know exactly how badly things were going for NBC until this week.

When they gave Jay Leno his own show.

Five nights a week. In prime time.

Network television has recently seen a bleed-off of younger audiences to cable shows at the ten o-clock hour, and FOX has never bothered to program it at all. But what NBC has done is essentially cede five hours of prime time a week to the same people who tune into the current version of The Tonight Show. In other words: they’re hoping to keep people who were already watching Jay Leno.

This is not the platform for a critique of Jay Leno as an entertainer. But with a probable high end of five million people watching every night, this means NBC has essentially given up on five hours of programming every week. As recently as 2006, this hour featured Law and Order, ER, and Medium. Then Lipstick Jungle, Journeyman and Life. This year? My Own Worst Enemy. There are bloody fingerprints all over this corpse.

The Jay Leno experiment is more than a cost-saving device, and it’s more than an attempt to keep Leno from going to ABC. It’s an admission by NBC that they don’t know how to program entertainment anymore. It’s devastating for the entire NBC lineup, and for network television in general. Because once you become the Jay Leno channel, you don’t get to go back.

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