On the one hand, it's good news that ratings for The Jay Leno Show have been holding steady for the past couple of weeks. On the other hand, perhaps they'd just sunk about as far as they could possibly go. The question for NBC is if these numbers are acceptable for their long-term strategy. Or are they being as short-sighted as ABC was when they trumped their network up with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? twelve times a week in prime-time.
I suspect the next couple of months will be key in seeing how this new experiment might play out in the long run. For the first time this season, most of its network competition will start going into periodic -- or chronic -- repeats until February 2010; when the Olympic Games dominates everything (and nets NBC some ratings finally). NBC's point early on was that Leno would shine when everyone else was in repeats. But then the CSIs of the world beat him anyway with their repeats.
Now that Leno has seemingly found his level (around 5 million viewers a night), it becomes about whether he can maintain or grow that figure when others are in repeats. For the record, approximately 5 million viewers is where Heroes has slipped to, and people are starting to worry about that show. It's a little below the realm of network happiness, but then lower is to be expected at NBC.
In fact, by NBC standards, and considering its much cheaper price tag, it might be considered a solid performer, though I'm sure they'd rather see that demo rating get closer to a 2.0, than the 1.5-1.7 it's hovering at right now.
The problem I have is that NBC is a network that needs to break out with a hit and start to improve their average ratings, and I just don't see a show like The Jay Leno Show helping them get there. When ABC launched Lost and Desperate Housewives, the buzz surrounding them upped the ratings for the entire network. Suddenly they had a platform to promote the rest of their schedule, and ABC went from a sad sack network to fighting with CBS and FOX for the top.
NBC has castrated five hours of their schedule from ever having a chance to establish that breakout hit, and odd moves like letting Southland go to TNT because it was too dark for the earlier timeslots doesn't help either. Now, NBC is basically saying that they can't have an edgy show that takes risks, becuase they gave their latest timeslot to Leno. So they may have stopped the hemorrhage as far as money loss goes by having a cheap show get 5 million viewers a night for them. But stopping the bleeding isn't healing the sickness.