Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH-TV (Ch. 7), announced on its site last night that it would begin carrying an hour of news at 10 p.m. in September — going against the grain of its parent network, which plans to move Jay Leno into the primetime slot. Quite a development, considering Jay Leno long has been a hometown hero to the Hub, growing up in Andover, attending Emerson College in downtown Boston and starting out his comedy career there. But it's not about Leno personally so much as it is about falling ratings, and with it, ad revenues — WHDH's owner Ed Ansin told the Boston Globe: "We feel we have a real opportunity with running the news at 10 p.m. We
don't think the Leno show is going to be effective in prime time. It will be detrimental to our 11 o'clock [newscast]. It will be very adverse to our finances." In fact, Ansin asked NBC to let him swap news for Leno and air Leno's program at 11, which would have effectively slapped another Beantown product by bumping Conan O'Brien back past midnight. Having lived in Boston before and having family there, I know the power of the local FOX affiliate's 10 p.m. newscast (and also that WHDH already is running its own 10 p.m. news hour on another station there).
Here was the terse response from the network: "WHDH's move is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract
with NBC," said John Eck, president of NBC Television Network. "If they
persist, we will strip WHDH of its NBC affiliation. We have a number of
other strong options in the Boston market, including using our existing
broadcast license to launch an NBC-owned and operated station."
So, what happens next? Nikki Finke pointed out on her blog that the last time an NBC affiliate picked a fight, it did end up losing NBC and switching…to MyNetworkTV. And in the San Francisco case, NBC flipped the dial to a station with a weaker signal. Not exactly a win-win. Could there be an eventual compromise, in which Boston (and who knows who else) gets to put a half-hour of news at 10, followed by Leno at 10:30? Either way…
Everyone who disagreed with NBC's decision to go with three-and-a-half hours of late-night talk shows starting in September is probably thinking, "I told you so."