There is so much that doesn't make sense about The Jay Leno Show that a list could be made and you wouldn't be done reading it by the time he hits the air at 10 p.m. Monday.
Oh, on NBC. In case you forgot. If not, use this can't-miss helper: If something sounds ridiculous and messed up, it's probably on NBC.
And yet, here's an easy call: Leno is going to be a hit on Monday. In fact, he should dominate the entire week, given that he has virtually no competition and the curiosity factor from his fans and detractors will be off the charts. He has Jerry Seinfeld as his first guest. He has Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West performing together on the first show. Expect great ratings.
A week later, things will change, as the broadcast networks unveil new and returning series on Sept. 21, one night after the Emmys. People will be ready to watch scripted programming.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Leno should be soundly trounced by ABC and CBS (Fox doesn't program the 10 p.m. hour).
But NBC thinks that even if people go back to their favorite dramas, at some point they'll want a break, and Leno provides the best option. Better still, Leno's loyalists — who made him the undisputed No. 1 at 11:30 p.m. for most of his 17 years on The Tonight Show — will have a chance to watch him 90 minutes earlier and go to bed. Plus he'll be on for 46 out of 52 weeks, while dramas get 22 episodes and the networks either plug in new filler or reruns, or simply shut the lights off in May.
By NBC's logic, he's going to score big, cumulatively, over those 46 weeks. And given that a talk show is infinitely cheaper to produce than a scripted series, Leno will save the penny-pinchers at NBC tons of money.
So they win, right?
NBC hasn't been a thinking person's network — if you're talking about big-picture programming — in years. Many years. This is a bean-counter network that covers its embarrassing lack of vision and series development in all kinds of talk about the shifting nature of broadcast television and how you have to change the model to stay viable. Which is, of course, exactly why NBC is a fourth-place network in a four-network race.
Leno is not a game-changer. Except for NBC.
And here's why:
■ He'll get beat by scripted programming, and advertisers will pay his rival networks more for their dramas than they will for Leno's talk show. That cuts in to the cost savings.
■ If Leno gets all the "A" guests and wins the booking war — which he will — The Tonight Show and Conan O'Brien will continue their slide by appearing to be second choice at NBC. If that happens, ratings will dip in late night. So will revenue.
■ People will eventually get bored with Leno and go sampling elsewhere. It's the reverse of the "let's see what else is on" notion that NBC says will work in his favor.
■ Leno's format — essentially a shake-up of the standard late-night routine — will employ a gaggle of comics doing taped bits. This means you'll be seeing less of Leno, which is strange because he was always at least 50 percent of the reason to watch The Tonight Show. What if people don't like the comics he's touting? What if the taped bits feel stale or lack the bite of David Letterman's stuff or the wit of Jon Stewart? What if The Jay Leno Show reinvents the wheel at such a furious pace that Leno is not really much of the wheel at all? Who will watch that?
■ Leno has always won. What's his demeanor going to be like — not to mention his commitment — when the show loses consistently, he's getting raked for the failure and NBC blames him for the blunder?
■ The creative people in the TV industry have no motivation to work with NBC. If you don't have a 10 p.m. slot where the material can be more mature and the storytelling more ambitious, why go there? Besides, if your pilot ends up at NBC, five slots are off the board already, making your chance of getting picked up slimmer. So why not try to sell to CBS or Fox or ABC or cable?
■ If Leno's numbers decline, the lead-in to the local newscasts from around the country will be diminished. Stations in every market are worried about this. Nightly losses will lead to disgruntled affiliates.
So, what part of this idea seems so great now? And honestly, even if NBC decides after a year that it made more money than it spent, the 10 p.m. experiment will not spread. No network is as cheap as NBC, for starters. And the rest of them think the idea is a dumb one, no matter what NBC's cost-analysis graphs prove. This Leno idea — as ridiculous and messed up as you can imagine — begins and ends at NBC.