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April 16, 2014

Did 'The Jay Leno Show' Kill 'Southland'?

by Tom Conroy, posted Oct 9th 2009 4:17PM
SouthlandWhen NBC announced the cancellation yesterday of 'Southland,' the well-reviewed crime drama scheduled to have its season premiere on Friday, Oct. 23, the story -- according to the Hollywood Reporter -- was that the network had made the decision after seeing the new episodes and finding them "too dark and gritty."

But that couldn't have been a total surprise: After all, in the show's premiere episode, the police discovered both a murdered little girl and a corpse that had been partially eaten by dogs.

Other observers blamed NBC's decision to run 'The Jay Leno Show' Monday through Friday. That not only removed five hour-long slots that traditionally had been filled by dramas, but also forced the network to move its surviving dramas to 9PM or earlier.SouthlandWhen NBC announced the cancellation yesterday of 'Southland,' the well-reviewed crime drama scheduled to have its season premiere on Friday, Oct. 23, the story -- according to the Hollywood Reporter -- was that the network had made the decision after seeing the new episodes and finding them "too dark and gritty."

But that couldn't have been a total surprise: After all, in the show's premiere episode, the police discovered both a murdered little girl and a corpse that had been partially eaten by dogs.

Other observers blamed NBC's decision to run 'The Jay Leno Show' Monday through Friday. That not only removed five hour-long slots that traditionally had been filled by dramas, but also forced the network to move its surviving dramas to 9PM or earlier.

But if the content of 'Southland' is too dark for 9PM, what about 'Law & Order: SVU,' which routinely deals with murders that have creepy sexual motives?


What NBC didn't know until recently is how heavily the ratings of 'The Jay Leno Show' would be dependent on the shows that precede it each night. Leno's best night so far this season has been Tuesday, when 'The Biggest Loser' gives him his biggest lead-in. Otherwise, his audiences have declined since their since their early highs.

The Jay Leno ShowAnd Leno's slumping ratings have a domino effect: Now also suffering are the audiences of the 11PM newscasts on NBC's affiliates, and of NBC's 'Tonight Show.' David Letterman's 'Late Show' recently began beating 'Tonight' in NBC's target 18-to-49-year-old demographic; during the network's premiere week (Sept. 21 to 27, when the numbers weren't skewed by Letterman's sex-blackmail scandal), the only night that O'Brien managed to tie Letterman was, you guessed it, Tuesday.

While attempting to do 'Leno' spin control, NBC has advised people to wait and see how the show performs when its drama competition goes into reruns. The network hasn't addressed what could happen when Leno's lead-ins also go into reruns. Moreover, NBC's two new dramas, 'Mercy' and 'Trauma,' are both performing weakly.

It's likely that NBC canceled 'Southland' not because the show itself was a disappointment, but because the network didn't want to risk losing even more viewers at 10, 11 and 11:30 on Friday nights. 'Southland,' while acclaimed, was hardly a guaranteed audience magnet. After premiering in the time slot vacated by 'ER,' the series saw its audience drop from nearly 10 million viewers to between 5 and 6 million for most of the rest of the season.



By continuing to run 'Dateline' -- a far steadier prospect than an original drama still struggling to find its audience -- at 9PM on Fridays, NBC may be moving toward setting up a rerun-proof lineup of reality and news magazine lead-ins for Leno.

If so, the news for people who make their living creating scripted TV is even worse than they'd imagined when NBC first announced 'The Jay Leno Show.' Last summer, John Wells, who happens to be an executive producer of 'Southland' (and is currently shopping the show to other broadcast and cable outlets, such as TNT), said, "I wish NBC and Jay Leno well, personally. He's a very nice guy. But I hope he falls flat on his face and we get five dramas back."

What if, instead, Leno's troubling numbers have caused a reverse domino effect, gradually knocking out the scripted shows that precede him?

Of course, if the Leno experiment turns out to be a complete failure, imagine the gold rush among producers and writers when NBC reverses course and suddenly has to fill five to 10 hours with scripted shows.

Related: 'Southland' Could End Up on TNT

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