What if, someday soon, local television viewers could no longer watch KSL-Channel 5 news at 10 p.m. … because it becomes a 9 p.m. newscast?
That is at least within the realm of possibility, because the Powers That Be at NBC (and its parent company, Comcast) are — as has been widely reported — discussing the possibility of giving the last hour of prime time back to local affiliates. Under this purported proposal, NBC’s programming would end at 9 p.m. each night. (With the possible exception of Sundays in the fall, when NFL games could run longer than that.)
The perfect case-scenario thinking is this:
• Prime-time programming is expensive. NBC would save a ton of money by producing less of it.
• Network is a fraction of what it once was, so there’s far less upside for NBC to produce 22 hours instead of 15.
• Airing “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” at 10 p.m. MT and “Late Night with Seth Myers” at 11 p.m. MT would be good for the ratings of those two shows. (There are more viewers watching TV at the earlier hours, so ratings would increase.)
• It would also be a boon to local stations — including KSL — because a 9 p.m. newscast would draw more viewers than a 10 p.m. newscast. And stations could sell ads for an hour newscast instead of a 35-minute show.
There are no guarantees about any of this, but that’s the thinking.
Out of the box
NBC has tried thinking outside the box before, with disastrous results. In September 2009, the network gave the Monday-Friday, 9-10 p.m. hour to “The Jay Leno Show” — a prime-time version of Leno’s “Tonight Show.”
Entertainment Weekly declared that move No. 1 on its list of “TV’s 50 Biggest Bombs Ever,” which was hyperbolic — but, given the damage it did to both NBC’s schedule and its affiliates’ newscasts, arguably accurate.
Things have changed a lot since 2009, however, and the network giving the last hour of prime time to its affiliates seems reasonable at this point. Although NBC would have to be REALLY sure about this. It was one thing to restore dramas to its prime-time schedule once Leno returned to hosting “The Tonight Show” in early 2010; it would be a lot harder for NBC executives to talk their affiliates into giving them back that hour at some point.
Is this going to happen?
If I had to bet, I’d say yes — but not necessarily in the immediate future.
Bob Greenblatt — the chairman of NBC Entertainment from 2011-19 — told The Hollywood Reporter, “We had that conversation every 18 months when I was at NBC.” And it hasn’t happened yet.
And NBC’s big plan to make its streaming service, Peacock, its major focus haven’t gone well. The advertising-supported streamer had 13 million paid subscribers at the end of March, and that number didn’t change at all by the end of June. NBCUniversal execs claim it rose to 15 million by the end of September — after heavy discounting ($2 per month for a year, down from $5 per month).
But Peacock’s numbers are still pretty awful compared to the competition. It’s trailing Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and Amazon by tens of millions of subscribers, and it’s well behind Paramount+ and Discovery+. So maybe NBCUniversal would be wise to hold onto its broadcast hours, for now.
Will it be a trend?
They haven’t been as public about it, but there are reports that both ABC and CBS are also talking about giving up the 9-10 p.m. MT hour.
For those of us who grew up on network TV, this seems unthinkable. Younger generations are thinking, “What’s network TV?”
I didn’t always agree with Greenblatt’s programming decisions, but I know from our conversations that he really loves TV. And I have to agree with him that there will be a “regret factor” if networks cut back their schedules.
“Some of the greatest TV in history aired at the  p.m. hour,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “and it was appointment TV — ‘The West Wing,’ ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘St. Elsewhere’, ‘ER’ and ‘Lou Grant’ — because there was nowhere else to go.”
(“The West Wing” didn’t air at 9 p.m. MT, but … point taken.)
No, I won’t be surprised if all the networks cut their programming back, and we end up with competing 9 p.m. newcasts on KUTV-Channel 2, KTVX-Channel 4, KSL-Channel 5 and KSTU-Channel 13.
The crazy thing is that if Channels 2, 4 and 5 move their newscasts to 9 p.m. and Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon slide up to 10 p.m., I could see Channel 13 airing both 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts — and they’d have the local news audience all to themselves at 10 o’clock.
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