The Jay Leno experiment didn’t last long. While NBC executives tried to fill a prime time hour with Jay Leno instead of more expensive programming, local affiliates couldn’t deal with the ratings decline and the resulting loss in viewers for their lucrative late night news shows.
Many of the reports are calling this a blunder by NBC, but Mark Cuban has an interesting alternative viewpoint:
What Zucker and NBC did was the EXACT RIGHT MOVE… In today’s corporate world, if you don’t take the risks, you don’t get skewered on blogs, on cable news, in the newspaper. Public condemnation appears to be a far worse consequence than financial success is a reward. Thats a huge problem for our country.
My take: I’m not a TV programming expert by any means, but there are some interesting lessons in leadership that we can learn from this situation:
- Innovation requires embracing failure. I agree with the general direction of Cuban’s comments; if you want to have innovation, then you need to deal with some failures. If you react too harshly when people fail, then they will be much less likely to take any risks in the future. With all of the change in technology, the TV industry certainly needs some more innovation.
- Don’t expect to get it right the first time. The Leno show was setup as if it was going to be perfect from the outset. Why else would you take over 5 nights of programming all at once?!? With that type of schedule, there was no time for the production staff to learn what worked and didn’t work and make mid-course corrections. If the network had factored learning and improving into the equation, they may have started with Leno on a 2-night schedule.
- For every action, there’s a reaction. When we remodeled our house a few years ago, we wanted to move a window. Our contractor, who always said “for every action, there’s a reaction” thought about it for a little while and ultimately showed us how ugly it would have looked from the outside. So we didn’t make the change. Given that NBC execs expected ratings were going to go down during prime time, they should have better anticipated (and proactively dealt with) push-back from the affiliates.
- People love a juicy failure. There aren’t many jokes on talk shows or skits on Saturday Night Live when something succeeds. But when there’s a perceived failure of any kind (like The Leno Show at 10 PM), the comedians come out of the woodwork. That’s why leaders need to have thick skin, keep from getting defensive, and have a good sense of humor.
The bottom line: For some reason, I feel like ending this post with an unrelated joke from Johnny Carson:
If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.