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Jay Leno a Failure; Also, Jay Leno a Success

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Love him or hate him, success or failure, Jay Leno taking over NBC’s 10 p.m. slot is the biggest TV story of the year. And now that he’s been on-air for a couple months, the assessments of his ratings performance have been coming in.

On the one hand, Leno’s been the subject of one bad ratings story after another for weeks, as he some nights dipped below even the 5 million he got in late night, or the 1.5 rating NBC set as a break-even bar.

On the other hand, the past two weeks have shown signs of stability, even improvement. Defamer looks at Leno’s ratings and suggests that the situation “doesn’t seem that bad,” pointing to such small-bore accomplishments as its beating an Ugly Betty rerun. Or as TV Squad put it: “Leno’s Ratings Suck Less.”

Really, these are two ways of saying the same thing. Leno at 10 was always a business device more than anything, a restructuring plan with a monologue, a cost-cutting measure for whom traditionally “poor” performance was acceptible, and to an extent expected. And it’s delivered that.

And as The Live Feed points out, now that we’re moving into the holiday season, one of NBC’s predictions seems to be bearing out: that Leno would improve and compete better when other broadcasters were in reruns. In other words, when nothing’s on TV, more people will want to watch the nothing that’s on Jay Leno!

None of which settles Leno’s long-term future. (In the short term, NBC has little to replace him with, and seems to have little interest in re-investing in 10 p.m. drama long-term; instead, NBC Universal is spreading out the 10 p.m. programming on channels like USA, as if to make them the new NBC-at-10.) But it does suggest that the success or failure of The Jay Leno Show will indeed be about the long-term slog, and Leno is a man who knows how to slog. Anybody want to make the case that the rest of us should be watching more Jay?