The Quaint Premise Behind The Tonight Show

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 18 2014 9:15 AM

The Tonight Show's Time Shift Problem

467868281-jay-leno-erforms-the-day-after-his-last-tonight-show
Jay Leno

Photo by Rachel S. O'Hara - Pool/Getty Images

In a number of articles I've read about Jimmy Fallon taking over Jay Leno's slot as the host of The Tonight Show, much is made of Fallon's friendliness to the idea of breaking the show down into small clips that play the next morning on the Web. The discussion then becomes about the pros of that approach (makes content available the way the younger generation wants to see it) versus the cons (arguably disrupts the core franchise). Either way, the focus is on the idea that Web video and time-shifting potentially undermine the value of The Tonight Show franchise by making it easier to watch bits of The Tonight Show outside its core time slot.

The real threat seems to me to be different. If I think about why I don't watch David Letterman nearly as frequently as I did 10 or 15 years ago, the answer is that back then he had the best show that was on during that time slot.

Advertisement

And time slot effects were core to Jay Leno's success. Leno has never been the tastemakers' favorite comedian. But The Tonight Show airs at 10:30 p.m. in Central time vs. 11:30 p.m. in Eastern and Pacific time. Since more people watch TV at 10:30 than watch at 11:30, appealing to the Central time taste profile is more important than appealing to coastal elites.

But nowadays the whole idea of watching a television show because it happens to be on at the moment seems impossibly quaint. If it's midnight and you're awake and want to watch television, you do the same thing you would do if it was 8 p.m. You watch what you want to watch! You fire up the DVR or Hulu or Netflix or HBO Go or whatever, and put the show on. Who cares what time it is?

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t Be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 20 2014 3:12 PM Terror Next Door Prudie advises a letter writer whose husband is dangerously, violently obsessed with the neighbors.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.