WHDH to Leno: Get lost

In a move that could put its fourteen-year NBC affiliation at risk, WHDH-TV in Boston has told NBC it plans not to run Jay Leno’s new weeknight show at 10 p.m. (ET) but instead run a prime-time newscast.

Leno got the 10 p.m. time slot after losing his longtime 11:35 p.m. Tonight Show slot to Conan O’Brien. Leno leaves Tonight next month and moves to prime-time in September; O’Brien takes over June 1.

NBC reacted quickly to the move, saying it would strip WHDH’s affiliation with the network if it went ahead with it, saying “[The move] is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract with NBC.”

If it goes ahead and removes itself from its Boston affiliate, it would have limited options. The peacock network could move the affiliation to WNEU-TV (Channel 60), which is a Telemundo affiliate (NBC Universal owns Telemundo) – or start a station from scratch. Boston is the largest market (#7) whose NBC station is not an O&O.

The owner of WHDH (Ed Ansin) said he believes Leno would not be a good lead-in to the station’s late-night newscast, whose 11 p.m. show already gets pounded by rival newscasts on CBS-owned WBZ-TV and ABC affiliate WCVB-TV. The 10 p.m. newscast is dominated by Fox-owned WFXT-TV, which on some nights beats one or two of the 10 p.m. dramas on the networks. WHDH already runs a newscast at 10 on co-owned CW affiliate WLVI-TV.

Ansin belives WHDH’s newscasts would outdraw Leno’s prime-time show. If Leno’s show does not air in Boston, the move could hurt NBC and Leno big time.

Yes, this is the same Mr. Ansin whose WSVN-TV in Miami lost its NBC affiliation in 1989 after the network bought another station in town (WTVJ). WSVN sued NBC and dropped some network programs months prior to the switchover; the lawsuit was later dropped. WSVN is now a Fox affiliate.

In 1995, WHDH became the market’s NBC outlet after the network’s longtime affiliate of 47 years (WBZ-TV) jumped to CBS after then-owner Westinghouse aligned all five of its stations with the Tiffany Network (CBS later bought Westinghouse’s radio and TV properties.)

As for NBC, it and the rest of the networks have taken a much harder line on regular pre-emptions of network programming than in years past. For awhile in the 1980’s, NBC affiliates WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee and WMAR-TV in Baltimore (now with ABC) did not carry The Tonight With Show With Johnny Carson – something that certainly won’t happen today with something like Leno’s or O’Brien’s shows.

Ironically, Leno hails from Boston.

Thought: It looks NBC’s plan to move Leno to prime-time has hit a road bump. Is NBC really this droll to dump an affiliate because it won’t air one show? Well… not really. The network paid a lot of money to keep Jay Leno and all affiliates should be on board to support this effort. What WHDH is doing is mainly a land grab to make more revenue by airing “local news” at 10 p.m. After all, do people in Boston want another outlet airing news filled with crimes, murders, rapes, and fires in this time period? (CBS’ procedurals already has that covered, LOL.) But NBC’s threat to remove WHDH over Leno’s pre-emption is a little bit extreme, given it really has no other viable options in the Boston market.

WHDH- which already had a tumulus history (from losing its broadcast licence under RKO in 1980 to losing CBS to WBZ in 1995), the loss of NBC could hurt its news operation if it became an independent. While going indie may have worked for WSVN in ’89, lightning probably won’t strike twice for Sunbeam in this case.

While other stations have had success going independent (i.e. KTVK in Phoenix after losing its affiliation with ABC in 1994), others have not had a successful go it at (KRON in San Francisco and WJXT in Jacksonville.) Both sides better chill out and assess the situation here.

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