NBC Eyes Cutting an Hour of Primetime

NBC is considering shrinking the network’s primetime footprint.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the broadcaster has had early talks about turning the 10 p.m. ET hour back over to affiliates. Nothing is decided yet, as the matter hasn’t come up for formal discussion with its affiliate board.

Such a move would shrink NBC’s primetime footprint by seven hours per week during much of the year (it would likely not affect the network’s NFL franchise, Sunday Night Football, which regularly runs past 11 p.m. ET in the fall, or any other primetime sports packages). It would also save the network money in a time when broadcast ratings have been steadily declining while media companies, including NBCUniversal and its parent, Comcast, go all in on streaming properties.

NBC’s 2022-23 schedule — including 10 p.m. programming — is locked in, so the earliest such a move could happen would be fall 2023. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that while NBC hasn’t made any formal proposal to affiliates yet, major station groups would be happy to have the 10 o’clock hour to program themselves, which could be filled with local news programming or syndicated fare.

NBC didn’t comment directly on the report but gave THR the following statement, which it also provided to the Journal: “We are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible. As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide audiences with the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”

Along with ABC and CBS, NBC has programmed at least three hours of primetime for decades, dating back to TV’s golden age. Should NBC trim an hour, its primetime footprint would be more in line with younger broadcasters Fox and The CW, which have two hours of programming nightly (and three hours on Sundays for Fox).

Cuts in primetime would also likely mean earlier airtimes for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers and possibly Saturday Night Live as well. The network’s late-night shows currently kick off at 11:35 p.m. ET on weeknights, while SNL airs live coast to cast at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 PT on Saturdays.

If NBC follows through with the move, it would mark the second major change to the broadcast landscape in recent weeks. Earlier this month Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global agreed to sell a majority stake in The CW to local TV station owner Nexstar. The Texas-based local TV operator, which also happens to own some 35 NBC stations, and would be a beneficiary of any NBC change), plans to rethink The CW’s programming lineup and strategy.

In 2009, NBC gave the 10 p.m. hour to The Jay Leno Show on weeknights in a bit to keep the comedian in house after he handed over The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien. Though cheaper to produce than a scripted series, the show underperformed most of NBC’s 10 p.m. dramas from the prior season and depressed ratings for affiliates’ late local newscasts and, in turn, The Tonight Show. NBC scrapped the show in February 2010 and bought out O’Brien’s contract, returning Leno to Tonight for four more years.

NBC’s 10 p.m. programming for the coming season has scripted dramas in the hour from Monday to Thursday, the second half of a two-hour Dateline on Friday and SNL reruns on Saturday. After the NFL season ends, the network has mostly aired dramas in the 10 p.m. Sunday spot in recent years.

The current slate also includes three-hour blocks of Dick Wolf-produced dramas on Wednesday (the Chicago shows) and Thursday (Law & Order), which would necessarily have to be broken up if NBC only had two hours a night to program.

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