Leno’s back. Do we care?

jay_lenoAs planned, Jay Leno has returned to the Tonight Show. The questions of the day are does anyone care, and is he now “damaged goods” after having failed in generating a substantial 10pm audience.

Many still care. There will be many Americans who will be happy to see Leno back at the Tonight Show. However, after the initial hoopla subsides, I suspect he will that he will garner 75-80% of his previous Tonight Show audience. In an earlier Struming, The 7 Mistakes by NBC, I discussed the myriad of mistakes that NBC has made in handling the Leno/Conan saga.

Ironically, the one thing that NBC may have gotten right is the same thing they are  now backtracking from. They decided in 2004 that by the end of the decade Jay Leno’s appeal will be waning, particularly with more desirable younger demographic audiences. So they decided to end his Tonight Show run in 2009. Therefore, with Leno’s return they now are faced with their “returning hero”  being a talent they suspected was fading, and one which they wanted to move away from.

Though Letterman is Leno’s age contemporary (Letterman is actually older at 62 vs. 59), Letterman’s sharper, irreverent style makes him more popular among a younger and more metro audience, while Leno’s appeal is more mainstream and Middle America. There’s nothing wrong with mainstream and Middle America, and there are lots of people in-between New York and LA. But if only ¾ of Leno’s audience returns, NBC’s affiliates will rightfully again question NBC’s wisdom.

Of course, since Leno’s ratings will likely exceed Conan’s sabotaged show, NBC will no doubt declare “victory” and move on. But I suspect in their corporate offices they will be soon be discussing who Leno’s successor will be and how and when to orchestrate Leno’s departure. Time will tell. The next few weeks will be interesting.

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