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'Jay Leno Show' Struggles To Get Viewers

Is it the former late-night host's fault, or simply his lead-ins?

It's in its third week, and just as quickly as it created a summertime buzz as NBC's most bold experiment, "The Jay Leno Show" has almost been forgotten.

Monday's installment earned a 3.7 rating/6 share, according to Fast National ratings from The Nielsen Co., about even with what it did a week before. Both, however, were well off the series premiere of "Jay Leno" Sept. 14 -- as much as 67 percent -- when Kanye West allowed "Leno" to earn an strong 11.0/18.

"Leno" never saw those numbers again. By his second night, he fell to a 6.9/12, according to Zap2it. Despite a 22 percent spike the following Wednesday, "Leno" would quickly fall into the 5.0s by the end of the week, and drop even further into the 4.0s the week after.

In fact, audiences between the first and second week of "Leno" have dropped 46 percent -- a 7.4/13 to a 4.0/7. No other show yet this season have had such a dramatic drop.

Why is "Leno" struggling, however? Few can claim Jay Leno himself has lost his comic touch. But could he have humor more designed for late-night than primetime? Is the competition from the other networks just too much?

Or could NBC simply not given "Leno" much to work with as a lead-in.

To definitely point at one thing or another is practically impossible, but there is no doubt that "Leno" is hobbled by its poor lead-ins. Despite having reruns as a lead-in, "Leno" picked up an 11.0/18 on its premiere night Sept. 14, a week before the 2009-10 season officially started. "Leno" had no competition from first-run programs as the premieres of "Castle" on ABC and "CSI: Miami" on CBS were still a week away.

But one week later, "Leno" was only managing a 3.8/6. At the same time, "CSI: Miami" was leading the pack with an 8.7/14 while "Castle" was able to pick up a 6.2/10. Of course, it didn't hurt that "Miami" had the comedy block of "Two and a Half Men" and "Big Bang Theory" -- which averaged an 8.2/13 -- as a lead-in. "Miami" only had to grow its audience 6 percent to achieve the night's best ratings.

"Castle" had it even easier, getting a lead-in from "Dancing With the Stars," which averaged an 11.2/17. Even with an audience loss of nearly 45 percent, "Castle" was still able to best "Leno's" ratings by 63 percent.

For what it's worth, "Leno" did improve upon its lead-in numbers from "Heroes" on that second week, growing by nearly 12 percent. But Monday, "Leno" fell 16 percent from an anemic premiere of the new series "Trauma," and barely even bested "Heroes," slipping by it with a 3 percent increase.

Fewer nights got better. On its first Tuesday, "Leno" earned a 6.9/12 thanks to a strong lead-in from "The Biggest Loser," which averaged a 6.3/10. By the second week, however, "Biggest Loser" slipped 24 percent to a 4.8/8 average, bringing "Leno" down with it. That night, "Leno" earned a 4.5/8, a 35 percent fall.

The story continued Wednesday. Although "Leno" got an 8.4/14 spike in its first week, having "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" as a lead-in did nothing to help, cutting "Leno's" ratings nearly in half, and losing 22 percent of "SVU's" lead-in.

How much does all this matter to NBC? It's not clear yet. Previous reports claim even if "Leno" fell to a 1.5, the network is set to make a load of money.

But a 1.5 can't be something NBC affiliates are looking forward to going into their local newscasts. For numbers like that, they could just be affiliates of The CW and likely not have to pay anywhere near as much for affiliate fees like they do with NBC.

And getting viewers to local newscasts is important, not just for keeping local affiliates happy, but also to make sure there are people around to watch "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien," instead of watching viewers en masse tune into David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel.

So that's the decision NBC has to make. More money or more viewers. Because right now, with "The Jay Leno Show," there is no way they can have both.

About the Author

Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus and is a veteran print journalist. He lives in Tampa, Fla.
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