Today’s Lesson from The Tonight Show: It’s About the Viewers, Stupid

The best drama on TV right now is the unfolding saga of NBC’s prime time/late night hosts.

Instead of moving veteran Jay Leno aside, NBC chose to carve out 1/3 of their week night prime time real estate to give him a new program. A risky move that has appeared to back fire, as NBC acknowledged this week.

The problem is it’s not that easy to stuff the cat back into the bag, so to speak. Finding new programming for 10-11 five days a week is fairly straightforward. Shuffling hosts is not that easy (anyone for musical chairs?) Moving Leno back to 11:30 means moving Conan O’Brian from Tonight to Tomorrow (whatever happened to that show anyway?). Conan’s already said no to that.

The bigger question though is how did NBC get into this mess to start with. Because they made decisions based on cost (much less expensive to program comedy than 5 nights of drama) and product availability (we’ve got Leno, where can we use him?), rather than on market need or customer input.

What they didn’t do is consider the audience, their target market, and determine what it is they wanted to see. Their competition, OTOH, loved it–moving quickly to fill the vacuum and take advantage of the misstep.

Clearly, NBC made decisions a little bit bass-ackwards. As a result, the audience voted with their feet, or, more accurately, with their remotes.

It will all work itself out one way or the other and before long it will be mostly forgotten, except for in case studies of how not to consider the customer. But shame on you, NBC, for getting into this position to start with. This should be yesterday’s news.

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