Late Night’s faces are shifting, and in the process so is the business of television.
Over the course of the past several months we’ve already watched late night television begin to evolve as Conan moved from New York to Los Angeles and handed the keys to Late Night over to Jimmy Fallon. Now, of course, Jay Leno has handed the storied reigns of The Tonight Show to Mr. O’Brien – but unlike those late night shifts of the past this story doesn’t end here. Instead, in September, Mr. Leno will re-emerge in a new prime-time show on NBC nightly at 10PM.
So in essence, rather than a simple hosting transition, like that of Carson to Leno, this movement instead is more like a seismic shift for late night television. (Actually, I’m not even sure that moniker is accurate anymore, as we’ll now see this variety-style show airing from 10PM to about 1 or 2 AM.) With the addition of Leno’s new program to the landscape there are many questions, which are left to be answered in the coming months and years. Can Leno be successful at that early hour? Who will get the big guests? What will differentiate the programs? Does the audience have enough interest for what amounts to 3 hours of talking heads on Network television each night?
That said, however, potentially one of the most interesting questions that remains to be answered is that of what the impact will be on the Business of Television. Consider for a moment, that if the strategy works NBC, will have taken a time slot that typically requires on average $3 million dollars per night to create an hour long drama – and filled it with a topical comedy variety show which is costing somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million for a year. The result for the network will be the ability to earn a higher return on their investment – and therefore a better payoff for the network’s ownership: GE.
Further, if this proves successful, there is a high likelihood that it will change the entire game of television: putting pressure on the other broadcast networks to adopt similar strategies; yielding improved profits for the other ownership groups (and their shareholders). Additionally, this shift would leave a lot of popular programming and creative talents without a home – a void that can actually create new opportunities for growing cable outlets like TNT, FX, Lifetime and others. All in all, this late night shift could alter the television landscape as we have known it for quite some time.
Actually, if it works out I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw NBC extend the Today show by a few more hours, and rebranded the 10PM – 1AM block as The Tonight Show and called it a Day.