ISSUE DATE: Mar. 16, 1992
ALSO APPEARED: Sep. 14, 2009
If The Jay Leno Show succeeds — where succeeding means not getting more viewers than the competition but simply increasing NBC’s profit margin — it suggests a TV future in which ambitious dramas become the stuff of boutique cable, while the broadcasters become a megaphone for live events and cheap nonfiction. “If the Leno Show works,” says former NBC president Fred Silverman, “it will be the most significant thing to happen in broadcast television in the last decade.”
It’s a business model that says, essentially, the mainstream has shrunk, if it exists at all. Yet the guy NBC has enlisted to usher it into this specialized world is TV’s most middle-of-the-road entertainer: a “big-tent guy,” he calls himself, who lives and breathes the old-fashioned something-for-everybody philosophy of broadcasting, whose icons include Jack Benny and Ed Sullivan. NBC is trying to adapt to a media future in which audiences choose from a thousand flavors by signing up with America’s most successful purveyor of vanilla.
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