Big Primetime Cable Broadcast Change Is One Step Closer

The 10 p.m. timeslot, the home of shows like NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime, and ABC's The Good Doctor, could be a thing of the past. Television executives suggested they may follow NBC's lead by giving local networks back the 10 p.m. timeslot. The potential move comes as television viewing habits across the country and around the world continue to change thanks to streaming. CBS, which airs NCIS: Hawai'i, Blue Bloods, and others at 10 p.m., said it is sticking with the timeslot.

During a panel of local station chiefs at NAB Show New York Wednesday, NBCUniversal Local Chairman Valari Staab confirmed the company is still considering giving the 10 p.m. hour back to local stations, as was rumored in August. She called this idea a "different sandbox" to explore, reports Deadline. Hearst Television chief Jordan Wertlieb said he expected and hoped that the other media giants will follow NBC's lead.

Staab and Wertlieb said media companies are coming to terms with the ratings declines across nearly all programming as more viewers turn to stream services for scripted content. They noted that keeping a hold on three hours of scripted content six nights a week is making less economic sense. If they give the local networks an extra hour, they would need to spend less on promoting scripted shows that might not attract any audience live. Plus, they could put additional resources into the local stations they own so they could compete better with groups like Hearst.

"Valari made a good point and it applies to all the networks," Wertlieb said during the panel. "Take those resources and invest it in a really strong 8 to 10 block and the entire ecosystem improves."

Staab hinted that her division would not create a traditional newscast with the extra time, calling it a "huge opportunity" for her team. Local stations could create more news programs, or lifestyle shows, game shows, or sports programming. Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley noted that his company recently teamed up with CSI creator Anthony Zuiker to dive through archives and help staffers create original programming with what they already have.

"Streaming has gutted the general entertainment and cable networks," Ripley said, reports Deadline. "Literally gutted them. When you take a look at that, the core strength of the pay-TV bundle is live, day-and-date content, which is the strength of broadcast. Within the ecosystem, I think broadcast TV will continue to do quite well."

While NBC might be interested in giving up the 10 p.m. hour, CBS is not, especially since some of its most-watched scripted shows air during that block. "We are committed to 10 PM and continuing our ratings success in that time period," CBS President and CEO George Cheeks said in a statement to PopCulture.com. CBS' 10 p.m. slot has reached almost 47 million viewers so far this season. The network pointed out that 10 p.m. programming helps owned and operated stations and affiliates with an important lead-in. 

Back in August, The Wall Street Journal reported that NBC was considering handing over its 10 p.m. timeslot to local stations. Sources told Variety that the earliest this could happen would be the fall of 2023. Since NBC is reportedly not planning on scaling back production of shows, it would mean executives would have to decide which shows would be best to keep on the broadcast network or move to Peacock for streaming.

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"We are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible," NBC said in a statement at the time. "As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide audiences with the content they love across broadcast, cable, and streaming." Earlier this month, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Schell told CNBC the idea is still on the table, but no final decision was made.

While CBS, NBC, and ABC have long reserved the 10 p.m. ET/PT hour for scripted programming, Fox and The CW have never used that timeslot. NBC infamously gave up the 10 p.m. hour in September 2009 when it gave Jay Leno a 10 p.m. show. The move was a disaster and ended after just five months.