Fixing the Jay Leno Late News Lead-In Problem

By Graeme Newell 

It is the biggest worry at NBC stations around the country–will Jay Leno’s new show torpedo their late news numbers? My clients are clamoring for a magic bullet that will somehow coax the prime audience all the way to the 11 o’clock hour.

There is no question, the Jay Leno show will be a big challenge for news teams. By their very nature, late-night talk shows are designed for casual surfing. A dramas has a plot line that methodically carries the viewer through the hour and keeps her glued to the set. Most of us have a Jay Leno franchise we enjoy, but other segments simply bore us. I am a big fan of the monologue and the skits, but have little use for the interviews. That means I watch the top of the show and then I’m gone – a late news’s worst nightmare. We have yet to see Jay’s masterful strategy for holding viewers through the hour, but it will need to be quite revolutionary to escape the erosion factor.

So what can you do to hold a 10pm audience into the late news?

1) Make sure your prime topicals are flawless.

Remember that more people will see the topicals than will see the show. Is your entire newsroom dedicated to the appeal and effectiveness of the prime topical or is it just “a promo thing?” Compelling prime topicals can only happen if everyone in the newsroom feels they are a priority, and not an annoying distraction.

This means the photographers clamor to get video back to the station in time for the promo deadlines. It means the reporters won’t stop calling the promotion writer because they have such amazingly great facts for the topical. The assignment desk has masterfully scheduled the best interviews of the day so that video can make it back for the prime promo deadline. The editors enthusiastically run through the newsroom proclaiming, “I have the perfect soundbite for the 10pm cut in!”

Great topical promotion will hold on to viewers, but great topical promos are rare. Typically, the problem is not a lack of producer writing and editing skill, but a lack of quality video, sound, and information. Garbage in — garbage out. Gather your news team together and reiterate the importance of the prime promos. Remind them that these promos get more eyeballs than the newscast itself. Refresh their memory that these promos will do more to drive the late news number than any component within the show itself.

2) Make sure your A team is in the game.

Does your topical producer work the late shift or is she back home watching the prime topicals in her pajamas? Your best promo writer should be on site and working her butt off throughout primetime. Her job is to work with the entire late news team to organize the most compelling content of the night. She must instantaneously turn it into riveting promos just minutes after it arrives back at the station. Far too many stations produce their prime topicals right after the 6pm show, hours before they air. This means they create their most vital promos of the day with dated content, and doom themselves to a rehash of the old newscasts.

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Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at