The Beginning of the End of the Jay Leno Experiment

In their quest to reshape television, NBC passed a critical milestone on the way to the primetime experiment's end this week — ratings fell below their own ridiculously low benchmarks to judge the show's success. Now the format's being reworked.

This Monday's show averaged a 3 rating and a 1.15 in the critical 18- 49 demographic group, which determines the show's desirability to advertisers. The 1.15 number was against powerhouse Monday Night Football, but for the first time it sent Leno below the 1.5 mark that NBC had said, pre-launch, would define success.

The free-falling ratings have also dragged down the rest of the network's after hours line-up. The NY Times reports:

Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show fell to just a 1.8 rating in the overnight household ratings and the preliminary 18-49 ratings put him well below his main competitor, David Letterman on CBS. (Mr. Letterman's household ratings at 11:35 p.m. even beat Mr. Leno's at 10 p.m. a 3.3 to a 3.0.) ABC's late-night entry Jimmy Kimmel scored a 1.5, putting him closer to Mr. O'Brien — who starts a half-hour earlier than Mr. Kimmel - than Mr. O'Brien is to Mr. Letterman.

Across America, NBC's affiliate stations are sounding increasingly ready for war in the face of sinking viewership for their evening news show, pulled down by Leno's flailing lead-in.

To which the response from the show has been some minor tweaks to the format: moving the "signature" Jay Walking and headline-reading bits to their old slot after the monologe; moving them up from the back of the show — where they had been placed on the insane belief that people would stay around for them and thus provide a strong closer/lead-in to the local news. In other words, making the show even more like Leno's Tonight Show.

And now finally, the press, always eager to take a few whacks, has officially started the countdown clock on Jay's final days.

"To Save NBC, Rethink Leno Strategy" demands Newser.

"Is It Time to Pull the Plug on Leno?" asks an ABC news headline.

"Is Leno's 10 p.m. experiment nearing an end?" asks MSNBC!...of NBC network fame.

However, with the flood of bad press raining down on Jay's head, that can only mean one thing: rebound is just minutes away. While one would have to be certifiable to bet on Leno and NBC at this dark hour, the law of nature that no one ever lost a buck betting against the wisdom of the press has not been repealed.