Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Jay Leno needs your hatred to ensure his continued success

In a week where David Letterman's Late Show reruns beat Conan O'Brien's new Tonight Shows, there's a glimmer of hope for NBC: Jay Leno.

Normally, I would end that sentence with "just kidding," "had you going," or "wah, wah, wah," but a media research company, NewMediaMetrics, says it's true. With a straight face.

Although I really liked Leno's early appearances on Letterman and thought he was a great stand-up comic in his day, I hated his Tonight Show, including his inexplicably heralded monologues; to me the show only succeeded as a sleep aid and a way for people with terminal illnesses to live longer - because one minute of watching the show felt like six months.

Says NMM:
"The Jay Leno Show could prove to be a powerhouse at 10 p.m., particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays" because "17 per cent of Leno's core demo gave him a score of at least nine out of 10 (in terms of emotional attachment). That attachment translates into a group much more likely to watch "Leno" than anything else in the time period."
Just when we get past the disturbing fact that people actually not only like Jay Leno, but feel an emotional attachment to him, it gets even worse.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, "the NMM team's research model is derived from the methods developed by Jonathan Bowlby, the British behaviorist who in the 1940s developed a methodological approach to quantifying the emotional bond between mothers and children."

In other words, Jay Leno is more like a mom than a comedian to his viewers. His comedy doesn't make you think, get angry, question your beliefs, or even laugh. It simply gives you that comfortable, warm feeling you get when Mom cooks you your favorite meal and lets you fall asleep on the comfy couch when you're done.

Awww, isn't that nice?

Probably if you're a Jay Leno fan, but not if you're a snarky, mean-spirited comedy lover like me. Nor, apparently, if you're a writer who makes money by penning scripted dramas. To these people, Jay Leno is the Satan responsible for taking away five hours of prime-time real estate a week that would normally go to them.
"This could put a lot of people in Hollywood out of work," Erik Sorenson, a former CBS News and MSNBC executive told the LA Times. "A lot more people work on five hours of scripted drama than on this one variety show."
Peter Tolan, creator of Rescue Me, also recently stuck it to NBC at a panel of FX showrunners (the folks responsible for the day-to-day "running" of TV shows):
"I feel they should take the American flag down in front of their building and just put up a white one. Because they've clearly given up. They've essentially said, 'Look, we can't develop new shows anymore.'"
Love + Hate = Success!

Given all of this negativity, what accounts for the high level of Leno love among a certain group of people? Ironically, it may be the negativity itself. That's right: by hating Jay Leno, you may be ensuring his show's success.

As with many products, the thing that makes Leno consistently successful is that people feel so strongly about him one way or another. So, if you despise his lame comedy, and you're vocal about it, you too are helping him out.

There are examples of this effect all over the world of marketing and advertising; some of the most successful products are the ones that are hugely attractive to one audience and equally repulsive to another.

Strong feelings on either side of a product mean that those who love it have to argue for it against the dissenting voices of others. Hence, a stronger attachment to the product they already love.

As a friend once told me in high school, "I love basketball, but I really love the fact that I love basketball." Jay Leno fans don't just enjoy his show, they enjoy the fact that they enjoy his show. The more you hate it, the more they dig in their heels and love it.

The website Threadless operates on this premise. Users rate T-shirt designs on the site on a scale of zero to five, and Threadless prints the ones that get a score of 2.6 or higher (the popular ones) and, in some cases, those that achieve a score of just 2.0, provided they have lots of high scores and lots of low scores.

Why not just print the most-popular T-shirts? Because the ones that inspire the most love and hate are the ones that tend to sell the most.

Go figure.

I hate your comedy, Jay Leno, I really do. Your ratings can thank me on Sept. 14.

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