Jay Leno in Little Rock: Not Bad for KARK at 10 pm

Jay Leno

The Leno Effect: Not terrible in Little Rock

The big media news today is no doubt the disaster that has been NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show,” which seems to be coming to head in the least surprising way possible. The bottom line: NBC’s experiment with Leno in primetime is a spectacular failure, forcing the third-place network to contemplate putting the former late-night king back in late night while somehow honoring its commitments with new “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien, himself a ratings disappointment.

Good luck with all of that.

But why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth? Leno’s primetime numbers are performing about where NBC expected — only about 5 million viewers per night. But a large audience wasn’t necessarily part of NBC’s plan. The plan was to produce a cheap nightly show that would draw a guaranteed audience, one that could easily be sold around and bring profits to the network.

The fatal flaw? Local affiliates need a strong ratings lead-in to their late local news, which in many cases is the most significant source of revenue those affiliates have. Leno’s low ratings, they complained, were driving viewers to other networks — or cable — where they were less likely to come back to the NBC affiliate’s late news.

In larger, metered TV markets — markets where the previous night’s ratings are delivered to affiliates the next morning — affiliate station general managers were watching their late news ratings drop like a brick. And many began complaining to NBC. Consider the scene in Baltimore a few months ago:

Baltimore may be called Charm City, but for WBAL — the local television station that carries NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” — there isn’t much to smile about lately.

Usually, WBAL is in a neck-and-neck race for viewers against arch rival WJZ. But since NBC debuted “The Jay Leno Show” in prime time five weeks ago, the station’s 11 p.m. newscast — where silver-haired Rod Daniels’ 25-year run as anchor is the longest in Baltimore history — has been shellacked in the ratings. Now WBAL is a distant second.

And there was this from an NBC affiliate owner in Detroit:

Alan Frank, who runs two NBC stations including the affiliate in Detroit, told the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable over the weekend: “The handwriting is on the wall. The only question is what [NBC] is going to do about it.”

Here in Little Rock, NBC affiliate KARK-TV, Channel 4, has been running third place among most daily newscasts, including at 10 p.m. What’s the Leno Effect been like for the Nexstar Broadcasting-owned station? Advance numbers from latest November ratings book, which came out in late December, might surprise you.

It shows KARK, while still in third place, gaining audience at 10 p.m., going from a household rating/share of 5/11 in November 2008 to 6/14 last November. In fact, KARK logged bigger share gains at 10 p.m. than any of its local competitors, which each saw about a 1-point bump. Some demographic numbers (men and women 25-54) were also up slightly, as were all but one competitor.

In fact, this last November ratings period almost returned KARK to its November 2007 10 p.m. ratings level of about 6/13.

And there was another surprise looking at estimates for NBC primetime (7-10 p.m.) performance locally. Those numbers were up slightly as well, going from a 4/7 in November 2008 to 5/8 last November.

No doubt both NBC in prime and KARK at 10 p.m. have have seen stronger ratings in the past. And there are myriad factors that go into ratings, not to mention that these numbers are estimates based on paper surveys of only a sampling of the local TV audience. Still, it’s the best evidence we have, and it suggests that the Leno Effect might not be such a bad thing in Little Rock.

More on November Ratings in Little Rock

KATV, KTHV Still Tops in Latest News Ratings

More on NBC, Leno and Conan

Blame Jay Leno – Gawker

Late-Night Shift Sinking, NBC Wants Leno Back in Old Slot – New York Times

An Open Letter to NBC – Videogum

(Disclosure: I appear regularly on KTHV-TV, Channel 11, a Gannett-owned CBS affiliate that is a direct competitor to KARK and other local TV affiliates in the Little Rock market.)

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Does David Simon’s Sun Vendetta Deaden ‘The Wire’?

Slate media writer Jack Shafer had a piece this week on how “The Wire” creator David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, apparently misses the boat on the state of the newspaper industry. At the heart of his argument: the decline of the Sun came not because newspapers — faced with the growing prominence of the Internet — weren’t sufficiently hungry, ambitious or worried about their future to keep up, but because the paper — as is often the case with city dailies — was tied with the economic health of the city in which it is published. As the city crumbled, so did the Sun, he says.

The declining health of the Sun tracks the economic crack-up of the city in which it is published. In his CJR piece on Simon, Lawrence Lanahan annotates the city’s economic fall. It has lost 28 percent of its population over the past three decades, and a major chunk of its manufacturing base. About 20 percent of Baltimoreans live under the poverty line, about 40 percent of the black population isn’t employed, and so on.

Not even a newspaper can repeal the laws of economics.

As you’ve probably heard over and over by People Who Know, “The Wire,” a so-called “city procedural” that tracks how our many institutions — police, gangs, unions, government, schools and now the media — consistently fail us, is the very best show ever on television, ever. Each season, it surveys a stunning vista of crackheads, drug dealers, dirty real estate developers, scheming politicians, blue-collar cops, attorneys, dock workers, school children and more to deliver a searing indictment on how our democratic system fails us at every turn. Despite its dour message, the series has never seemed overly pessimistic, because so many of its protagonists work stubbornly — and often to their detriment — to make things better, even if only by small measures. And despite that stubborn heroism, the series has remained relentlessly realistic and unsentimental, and has never pandered to its audience with pat resolutions and easy explanations.

While Simon’s Sun has always loomed in the background of previous season, it takes a starring role this time around in the series’ final 10 episodes. And it’s the newspaper storyline, which finds a heartless out-of-town corporate owner offering buyouts and cutting newsroom resources to save money, that have drawn a rare round of knocks against it, including Shafer’s.

The critics have a point. Whereas in previous stories, characters have been richly drawn, complex studies of the good and evil, the strengths and weakness — and the points in between — that exist in people, the newspaper characters are too neatly divided. There’s the cynical, noble city editor and the glassy-eyed, hard working reporter on one end, and there’s the ambitious, lying Stephen Glass fabulist and the cold “do more with less” executive editor on the other. And there’s the complete absence of any mention of the Sun’s Web operations, which Slate’s TV Club discussion of the show notes:

Simon makes it clear in his Washington Post Outlook piece that he neither knows very much nor cares very much about the Web, but doesn’t reality demand that we see the newsroom of the Sun feeding the beast? All this talk of finals and double dots is so archaic. Are you telling me that the cub reporter, Alma Gutierrez, would run all over the city looking for an early edition of the paper before checking to see how her story was played on the Web? I just looked—the Baltimore Sun actually does have a Web site.

With Simon’s ire set squarely on the newspaper industry this season, other stories seemed to have suffered. Does anyone really buy that Det. Jimmy McNulty would scheme to create a fake serial killer in order to force police brass to reopen the major crimes unit? Tougher still, does anyone buy that Lester Freamon would throw in with McNulty’s plan, or that Bunk Moreland — of all people — would be the lone voice of reason against it? I’m not sure.

While I know nothing about the economics of Baltimore, I think it would be the ultimate of ironies if it’s this, the final season of “The Wire,” where Simon’s masterpiece finally jumps the shark. In previous seasons, Simon has uncannily painted detailed, nuanced portraits of life on the street, within the police department and in the halls of city government. That he would now be so hamfisted in his portrayal of the big metro daily, and that he would let his disdain for whatever his thinks ruined his newspaper mar the final act his brilliant drama, is tragic.

Related: A Washington Post writer rebuts Simon’s piece in Outlook.