Jay Leno, the all-suffering-est NBCUniversal loyalist, is being deployed to help resuscitate the media conglom’s CNBC as that cable business network comes off its lowest-rated quarter of the year in primetime and the lowest-rated quarter in its history in the demo for the business day, 9 AM-5 PM.
CNBC already tested the idea of a Leno-hosted primetime show when it telecast Jay Leno’s Garage: The Ultimate Car Week over Labor Day weekend. At 10 PM that Sunday, Leno clocked 416,000 viewers (139,000 of them in the news demo), more than tripling the crowd CNBC clocked in the same time slot during Labor Day weekend in 2013. That special/backdoor pilot was an extension of sorts to Leno’s Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage web series that can still be found on NBC.com — eight months after NBC gave Jay the boot, for a second time, from his Tonight Show gig, this time to make way for Jimmy Fallon. CNBC’s not commenting on the deal.
Despite being twice tossed, Jay’s never really stopped toiling for ratings for the company. Over the summer, he became the final mentor on Last Comic Standing as NBC looked to resurrect that summer franchise. And, just this morning, he lent a hand to the network’s struggling Today show, which used him to promote its weatherman Al Roker, using a USO comedy tour stop in Afghanistan as their backdrop.
“What kind of audience do you think this is going to be, Jay?” comedy tour emcee Roker asked star performer Leno from a military base.
“Uh, military,” Jay deadpanned.
“Really?” Roker responded.
“Yeah – not a lot of civilians buying tickets, for whatever reason. It will be a military show,” Leno repeated patiently.
“It will be a receptive audience,” Roker corrected.
Said Leno, reminding viewers he’s the old pro at doing comedy for the troops — not Roker: “They’re a great audience. These things are so much fun to do, because there’s really not a lot of pressure. It’s really loose, and having fun. It’s great,” As Roker continued to chat with other talent on the tour, Leno jumped in again:
“Afghanistan looks like Van Nuys — but with less gunfire,” he said.
“Leno’s already throwing fastballs before the show starts!” marveled anchor Willie Geist back at 30 Rock. “Van Nuys — boom!”
In March, when Jay was being inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame, he said he was glad he left The Tonight Show when he did because he was the oldest person on the show. Everyone else was 20 to 40 years younger than him and, while you may think you’re holding your own with them, “they’re really just laughing at you,” he explained. “You can’t be hip past a certain age. You have old-guy gestures.” And when you make references to The Dick Van Dyke Show they think it’s “a lesbian joke or something” — and they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you say the time is “half past 2.”
Ironically, given his latest NBCU venture, Leno told the March crowd at the Beverly Wilshire induction ceremony that his favorite book is Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol — a searing indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism.
CNBC has been looking to broaden its primetime slate with reality TV formats. To date, its most successful such bid has been its reruns of ABC’s Mark Burnett-produced Shark Tank, which features rich people deciding whether to give budding entrepreneurs the money/deals they need to make them rich too.
In January, CNBC boasted its New Year’s Day marathon of that series drew the network’s largest average audience in the news demo in six years. The marathon had drawn more than 4.2 million unique viewers, averaging more than 540,000 total viewers and 240,000 adults 25-54 from 8 PM-2 AM ET. During its peak hours, it averaged nearly 700,000 total viewers and 300,000 adults 25-54, ranking No. 1 during the 10 PM hour among all cable news networks in 18-49, 25-54 and 35-64 demos. The 10 PM airing was CNBC’s most-watched program in three years, while the 9 PM telecast was CNBC’s highest-rated among adults 25-54 in three years, the network bragged back then, based on early stats.
Those numbers represented triple-digit ratings growth for the network among total viewers (287%) and adults 25-54 (345%) compared with the net’s time-period averages during fourth-quarter 2013.