To Kill 10 O’Clock Primetime, What Is NBC Really Thinking?

NBC has floated the idea of shrinking back primetime and giving back the 10 p.m. hour to local news. Would it be a shrewd move or just another sign of the network’s slavish prioritizing of Peacock?

Back in 2009 when Jay Leno’s 10:00 p.m. prime time show was bringing new meaning to the term ratings disaster, NBC affiliates across the country were howling about the damage the network’s latest attempt to save money was doing to late news.

Hank Price

The affiliates personally liked Jay, everyone liked Jay, but television is a business that cuts no slack, so NBC quickly returned to traditional programming. Sensing a rare opportunity to change the paradigm, a number of stations lobbied NBC to shrink prime time, giving the 10:00 p.m. hour back to affiliates for late news.

I was running an NBC affiliate at the time and loved the idea. Fox competitors were the only stations with newscasts at 10:00 and they were making a fortune. Going to head-to-head in the time period would level the playing field. Most importantly, a one-hour newscast would double late news inventory, nothing to sneeze at.

NBC, of course, decided against the idea and that was that, but in our business no idea is ever dead, especially when there is money to be saved, which why NBC ran up a trial balloon in the Wall Street Journal last week, making sure to say affiliates had not been consulted and of course such a move would have no effect on their undying commitment to quality programming.

What NBC is not saying is that their first commitment is to Peacock, now starting at just $4.99 a month with a free set of dinnerware. OK, I made the dinnerware up. In any case, we can be sure that if this move happens Peacock will continue to program the 10:00 p.m. time period, competing directly with the network’s own affiliates.


Who knows? Maybe affiliates will still like the idea, but there are also reasons to give them pause before supporting such a radical change; the most important being there is much more news inventory in the market than back in 2009. Will adding even more still be seen as a bonanza? If so, then the decision will be made based on that factor alone.

If NBC does give back the 10:00 p.m. hour, don’t think affiliates will gladly allow Jimmy Fallon to start early. Many Fox stations program the entire 10:00 to 11:30 p.m. time period with local news, something NBC affiliates would want to match. That means Fallon would stay at his current starting time.

Perhaps the biggest question of all is about NBC’s strategy for the future. Do they have one, or are they so blinded by streaming that the 10:00 p.m. idea is another sign they no longer see local stations as long-term partners? That would be a very bad decision for both parties.

There is also the question of reaction from ABC and CBS. Would affiliates of those networks demand their own 10:00 p.m. start? One suspects both networks would gladly comply for the cost savings alone, not to mention their own commitments to streaming. If affiliates of all four networks start local news at 10:00 p.m. has anyone gained anything?

Whatever happens, we are clearly in a time of radical change. One can hardly wait to see the next shoe drop.

Comments (5)

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RustbeltAlumnus2 says:

August 29, 2022 at 9:13 am

It’s a strong idea. It’s akin to downsizing display square footage in department stores as Amazon and Zappos capture the consumers’ attention. Peacock is the future, or whatever services it eventually merges with, but broadcast networks have so few sitcoms and dramas that primetime itself is a sad shadow of its former self.

AIMTV says:

August 29, 2022 at 10:43 am

I can’t remember the last time I watched primetime broadcast network TV. And I’m not Gen Z. I’m in my mid-50s’. There is no there, there. Nothing. Simply nothing worth watching IMHO, at least without being fed a glut of annoying, mood-altering (in a bad way) commercial announcements that one has already been gorged with like a force-fed pate-producing duck, on other platforms. Full disclosure, I don’t nor am ever tempted to subscribe to Peacock either. While in most cases, I do believe, the last thing viewers want is more news, especially “hard” news, perhaps stations can get creative- remember that? -and fill with a combination of programming produced from their news departments (soft-news, investigative, travel, talk, food, documentary, lifestyle, and shows that are sponsored and have a limited # of commercial interruptions – ala PBS, etc.), added to syndication programming and come out ahead financially. The world is changing, fast. The media landscape must adapt or die.

[email protected] says:

August 29, 2022 at 1:48 pm

I don’t really see why Comcast NBCU wouldn’t just develop shows for both NBC and Peacock and then distribute them on both platforms. One feeds the other and to some extent, NBC is just a marketing window anyway. I know there used to be this idea of exclusivity but that went away at least a decade ago. Comcast NBCU is going to spend the money on programming for Peacock, they might as well run some of those shows on NBC (like running The Resort concurrently on Peacock and NBC). Moreover, Peacock is not HBO Max or Apple TV Plus or Prime Video — no one is going there to find shows. Use the power of the Comcast TV guide and NBC itself to drive viewers to Peacock and build the content library for the entire Comcast NBCU ecosystem. Also, I fully agree that there is way too much local news inventory in the market. It’s diminishing returns at this point.

[email protected] says:

August 29, 2022 at 11:15 pm

I see if NBC stops programming 10PM I see CBS & ABC doing the same. In West Michigan where I live Wood TV airs 10PM news on WXSP and CW7 airs WWMT news at 10PM just a half-hour newscast. I remember when WXMI Fox17 launched Fox17 News At 10 in Jan 99 was just a half-hour newscast the slogan was at 10 it’s news at 11 is history in 2014 they changed their minds LOL. Fox17 airs the most news of any station in the market only TV station to have 4PM news I wonder if Wood TV is going to air a 4PM newscast? Since Ellen is ending in the next 2 weeks.

OldSchool says:

September 19, 2022 at 10:59 am

Peacock will have to merge with someone eventually but it makes sense as primetime is not the same and times have changed. The problem is there is so much local news now (and it is repackaged and repeated over and over for 2 days) and currently most Fox affiliates already have a 10PM (9PM CST) news so ABC,CBS and NBC affiliates adding a 10PM does not seem to be the answer. Affiliates will have to be creative (old word used in television years ago).