KING with fingers crossed

Anchor tenure, quality content, powerful marketing and lead-in programming are all parts of any TV stationís success in news. A strong element can compensate for a weak one. For instance, a station may have given itself a truly mediocre and constantly revolving anchor team with no promotions, but have Oprah for the lead in. They win. There are variations of these elements at work in every

Well, we’re in for a helluva’ interesting experiment here in Seattle – one of the markets around the country where the NBC affiliate is number one at 11pm. Starting in September, NBC is going to jettison expensive-to-produce script-driven programming in the 10pm slot, and put Jay Leno there. So Leno will be KING 5’s new lead-in.

I’ve read estimates that say ìtens of millions of dollars are at stake. I don’t doubt it. Here in Seattle, King is sweating bullets (not Bullitts) and KOMO no doubt is licking its chops waiting to see what happens. It could be a game-changer.

The NBC affiliate in Boston has said it’s not going to run Leno. NBC has turned around and said it would strip the station of its affiliation. That station is family owned by a guy with a reputation for butting heads with the networks and Nielson.

Other dominant NBC affiliates have hauled-off and pre-empted NBC programming over the years. KRON in San Francisco and KCRA in Sacramento have some interesting histories on this issue. But one of the key factors was family ownership. Locally owned TV stations could decide whether their brands or the network’s brand were more important and act accordingly.

In Seattle, I doubt corporate BELO is going to do anything too risky. They are in no financial position to gamble with the affiliation and they’ve got KGW in Portland to think about too. If Leno wins, KING is good to go. If Leno loses, KING has to hope he’s losing in other markets too so that the affiliates group can act as a whole and turn the knobs back to where they were.

But Leno’s probably not on a short hook like other programs are. So if his numbers start hurting at ten o’clock, how long does the network stay with him? After all, from the network’s perspective – it’s a win. Leno is far cheaper than high-end scripted programming. So would NBC let affiliates twist in the wind for a year? Two years? At what point do sagging ratings hurt the network as much as they do the affiliates? Is KING strong enough promotionally – and is the KING 5 News brand powerful enough to overcome a weak lead in?

The questions are fascinating. They’re all moot of course if Leno holds or boosts the numbers at 10.

My guess is that there are plenty of crossed fingers at 333 Dexter.