Who knows? We may look back on this era and think, “Man, NBC was so far ahead of the curve!” They knew the model of local news many of us grew up with: the big, well-paid anchors, the choppers, the liveshots, the stable of seasoned reporters–those were all, you know, expendable. In the future, the local news would come from content centers: awkward, low-ceilinged newsrooms where recent college graduates would produce quick and dirty stories that air in endless repetition on digital cable channels somewhere between monster truck shows and classic movies. Oh! And you can also get the stuff (sorry–the “content”) on your phone.
Well anyway, this Secret Evil Plan to dominate the next evolution of local news is well underway at NBC. That conclusion is now inescapable. A few cases in point from the past few days: the departure of Paul Moyer in Los Angeles, and NBC’s enraged response to WHDH/Boston’s decision to ditch Jay Leno in favor of an hour of local news at 10 p.m.
First, LA. Earlier this week, I wrote about the splashy yet debatable Defamer report that NBC had plans to kill off two of its golden geese: Moyer at KNBC and Chuck Scarborough at WNBC/NY. Showing my bias as a kid who grew up watching local news in New York, I largely dismissed the idea as almost-too-stupid-even-for-NBC. The next day, Moyer announced his “retirement.” As the LA Times reported, “Moyer, whose last day has yet to be determined, would not comment on the reasons behind his unexpected announcement.”
The reason is this: NBC is over big money anchors and believes young and nameless (and by definition easily replaceable) is the way of the future. And now, more than ever, I wonder how long Chuck and Sue will sit at the desk in New York. Sources this week confirmed what I had only jokingly suggested: that yes, NBC has had “brainstorming sessions” that have focused on a WNBC without its longtime anchor. If your goal is translating local news to an ever younger demographic, the thinking goes, why stay tied to a guy who, you know, is only getting older?
And then there’s Boston. A key component of NBC’s Secret Evil Plan is the move of Jay Leno to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, bringing his sleep-inducing show from its position AFTER the local news, and putting it on as a LEAD-IN to local news. Once upon a time, NBC produced excellence in the 10 o’clock hour: dramas that were so good, the network and its local stations worked together to seamlessly move from the last frame of the drama right into the first tease of the local newscast, so as not to lose a single eyeball. It was designed to deliver a profitable payoff for stations, especially NBC’s O&Os.
Now comes Leno. An hour. Every weeknight. Imagine how tired you’ll be by the time 10:58 rolls around. Ed Ansin, no stranger to maximizing an audience at ten o’clock, decided he’d be better off in Boston doing an hour of news. As Ansin told the Boston Globe, “We feel we have a real opportunity with running the news at 10 p.m. We don’t think the Leno show is going to be effective in prime time,” Ansin said yesterday. “It will be detrimental to our 11 o’clock [newscast]. It will be very adverse to our finances.”
Even more interesting than Ed Ansin’s pushback against NBC (and do you think he’ll be the only one?) is the enraged response from the network: “WHDH’s move is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract with NBC,” John Eck, president of NBC Television Network, told the Globe. “If they persist, we will strip WHDH of its NBC affiliation. We have a number of other strong options in the Boston market, including using our existing broadcast license to launch an NBC-owned and operated station.”
So much to dissect in that statement. But let’s go with the craziest first. NBC would invest in starting its own station in Boston? Over Leno? The network’s been trying for months to offload some of the best local stations in the country, with no luck. Clearly, NBC thinks owning stations is a losing proposition. A year ago, LostRemote reported on a revealing NBC memo: “We’re in the process of re-engineering the way we think, shifting our focus from a traditional stations business to becoming full-service local-media-production centers,” NBC Local Media president John Wallace said in an internal memo obtained by Broadcasting & Cable.
So it’s really not about having a station in Boston. It’s about destroying local news as we know it. And damn Ed Ansin if he still believes in local news as a profit center! Not only that, but how rude of WHDH! Leno grew up in Andover, Mass! You’re basically stabbing a local boy in the back in the name of a few bucks!
Oh wait. That’s what NBC does every day. Never mind.