“Well, NBC Just Lost Another Affiliate” — Groucho Marx

That’s a quote from an episode of You Bet Your Life, and it popped into my head when I saw this L.A. Times article on Jay Leno’s disastrous effect on the 11 o’clock news.

Leno, who is smarter about TV than most network executives, knew this was going to be the biggest problem; he said several times before he started his new show that his job was to provide a good lead-in to the 11 o’clock news where affiliates make their real money. But he hasn’t managed to keep people watching. Maybe he thought leaving “Headlines” to the end of the show would be enough to prevent the tune-out that often happens after the interview is over; it wasn’t.

This is a case where what makes economic sense for the network doesn’t make sense for its affiliates. NBC might do fine with Leno because, little-watched though it is, it is cheap to produce. But the thing about expensive scripted shows is that they have stories, and people who watch the first half-hour (or the first 15 minutes, if it’s a comedy) tend to want to see the second half to find out how it ends. Which in turn keeps them looking at the TV by the time the “film at 11” arrives. A talk show has no story, no ending, and unlike variety shows, it doesn’t even usually have the promise of a great sketch or act in the final five minutes. Even if you liked what you saw so far, there’s not a whole lot keeping you from changing the channel. Which is a disaster for local stations.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.