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Now That Jay Leno’s Headed to Primetime, Some Advice For NBC

And so it’s ended. Last Friday, Jay Leno made his last joke, welcomed his successor and signed off from latenight television. And so it begins. Come September, Leno hosts the first broadcast network primetime show in recent memory to air every weeknight at 10 — “stripped” scheduling in TV-speak. NBC’s hinted about what the show […]

And so it’s ended.

Last Friday, Jay Leno made his last joke, welcomed his successor and signed off from latenight television.

And so it begins.

Come September, Leno hosts the first broadcast network primetime show in recent memory to air every weeknight at 10 — “stripped” scheduling in TV-speak. NBC’s hinted about what the show will be and given the requisite contradictory spin on projected ratings: huge potential, modest expectations.

NBC’s declared the show its #1 marketing priority. No kidding. While media coverage has focused on scheduling wars, affiliates’ concerns and dueling egos, they’ve ignored the fact that parent company NBCU’s revenue has already taken a huge hit because of this decision.

That’s because 10 p.m. broadcast network dramas — more adult in content and language and often more creative than shows airing earlier in the evening — bring in big money internationally. They’re also valuable in syndication on U.S. cable and local stations. So without the next "ER" or "CSI" in the pipeline, future profit’s already gone.

On the other hand, a good kick in the ass to network primetime is long overdue.

And Leno, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, is the most fitting talent to tackle the heavy lifting that will be required.

So in the spirit of collegiality, Flackback offers NBC some PR and marketing suggestions to help the new show succeed:

• Revive the old talent booking wars. I don’t want to see Amy Adams or Rachel McAdams or the guy who played John Adams on every talk show touting the same project. Those crazy rules about exclusivity might make us PR people nuts, but they make shows stand out among the clutter.

• Jay: for god’s sake, stop appearing everywhere. You wrapped on Friday and performed in Atlantic City the very next night. You claim to have worked every weekend for the last 17 years. I half-expect to find you in my kitchen. But it’s time to play a little hard-to-get.

• Say “No” to YouTube. At least, “Not so much.” I haven’t watched a complete SNL episode on TV in years. Instead, I go online to find the handful of sketches that got buzz. NBC’s relationship with its affiliates is the highest stake in this programming gamble. Don’t let the marketing department get so enamored of the latest digital gimmicks that they make station tune-in unnecessary.

• However, affiliates: give the battle over media platforms a rest. Some of the innovative online ideas NBC is working up might go beyond your comfort zones. But the debate over them can’t drag into the show’s second season. Just in case there isn’t one.

• Ben and Jeff: get to work. NBC top dogs Ben Silverman and Jeff Zucker have been pilloried for their decisions and the sad state of the network. But Zucker was once the king of brilliant program stunting, especially for the Today show, and Silverman’s proven himself a clever broker of strategic promotional alliances that have salvaged lesser shows. Roll up your shirtsleeves.

• Skip the same old cross-promotions with the same yawner corporate partners such as Subway, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. I can’t tell whether that action figure I got was John Connor or Chuck. The mantra: fresh show, fresh marketing ground.

• No more tune-in promos that instead drive us away. The Conan/Tonight on-air campaign turned me completely off of the show, and I’m a loyal Conan viewer. He’s moved to LA — get over it. And those promos by actual funny talent like Tina Fey and Paul Rudd were as clunky as award show intros.

• Of course, if you can get such NBC types as Pat Buchanan, Kathie Lee, Maria Bartiromo and sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman to do promos, I’ll watch.

And one final suggestion. NBC’s hinted that, to reinforce the topical nature of the new show, Leno will be showing up on NBC News programming. Places like Today, Nightly News, Morning Joe, Keith Olbermann, Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings.

Please reconsider. There will be pushback from the purists about how the church-and-stateness of networks’ news and entertainment divisions is sacrosanct. That such crossover would violate one of the last fragments of network propriety. We just say: they’re funny enough on their own.

As great a comedian as you are, Jay, they’re all hard acts to follow.

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.