BURBANK — “The Jay Leno Show” may do more harm than good for local economies, even as it prepares to begin rolling tape from a studio here next month, experts say.
Although the show will bring production jobs and spending to the area, it will simultaneously crowd out potential dramas from prime-time TV spots, costing the region hundreds of possible entertainment-industry jobs at a desperate time for labor markets, experts say.
NBC executives and host Jay Leno have insisted that the move will bring work and economic activity to the area by installing a nightly show at a Burbank studio, rather than in Universal City or elsewhere.
Leno argued that the show will be taking the spots of others that weren’t associated with many jobs in the first place.
“What they were going to put here is ‘Dateline’ in a strip five nights a week,” he said, explaining that the show will employ more workers and not replace dramas.
But in killing the potential for other weeknight shows, the move will complicate the challenges facing industry professionals, who play substantial roles in the Glendale and Burbank economies and have struggled to line up work as major motion picture and television studios increasingly locate their projects in other states and countries to cut down on costs, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
NBC has slated the show to run at 10 p.m. weeknights, a slot once reserved for some of its “Must-see TV” juggernauts like “ER” and “Law & Order,” and currently home to one of the most-watched shows on television, CBS’ “The Mentalist.”
Other NBC shows have recently struggled to draw viewers at 10 p.m., when cable shows have begun to dominate, making the network’s new approach worthwhile, Leno said.
“There has not been a successful 10 o’clock show launched on any network in seven years,” he said. “’CSI Miami’ is the last one. For some reason people are not watching dramas at that time. They’re watching at 8, or they’re watching ‘The Shield,’ but they’re not watching them on the networks.”
But NBC’s decision to put Leno on the air five nights a week, instead of lining up dramas to challenge others at that time slot, is seen by many as a cost-cutting move that will depress labor markets, said Golan Ramras, manager of industry outreach and a career development advisor for the Los Angeles Film School.
“Essentially what they’re doing is taking what could be five viable nights of programming with five viable crews working on five viable shows and inserting in what’s the easy and cheap fix, where you have one crew, which does it consistently, and that crew will work and everybody else will be on the outside looking in,” Ramras said.
Unemployment rates of 10.2% in Burbank and 10.9% in Glendale are not expected to significantly turn around until entertainment industry hiring rebounds in the area, which may not happen without more local productions, experts said.
With Leno cutting down on the amount of possible television shows in the works, and with more studios moving their shoots out of California to take advantage of generous tax incentives in places like Canada and New Mexico, local workers will face even slimmer chances of getting hired, Kyser said.
Some experts had mixed views on the show’s new prime-time placement.
Local businesses could benefit from having Leno in Burbank, with guests and visitors likely to show up early, stay at nearby hotels and visit shops and restaurants, said Gary Olson, executive director of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.
And the show, which will staff 22 writers, is not crafted as a typical talk show and will likely employ a similar number of workers as any other prime-time show, said Don Nakamoto, labor market analyst for the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board.
A one-hour television drama typically accounts for about 180 direct employees and 540 indirect employees for one season of production, according to estimates from Kyser’s research group.
By eliminating the possibility of five such shows in its upcoming lineup, NBC is cutting down on those possible jobs, some of which could have come to the region, he said.
Each one-hour drama also accounts for about $44 million in direct spending over the course of a season, which multiplies to a higher level of economic activity through spending from locally employed workers, said Philip Sokoloski, spokesman for FilmLA, which distributes on-location film permits in Los Angeles County.
But with the possibility of that additional spending out of the question for now and with on-location shoots in the county down more than 50% from record highs in the 1990s, according to FilmLA, job prospects in the area are not looking bright, Ramras said.
If Leno proves to be successful, industry job prospects may get bleaker as other networks opt to mirror NBC’s approach by adding talk shows instead of dramas or comedies, he said.
“I’m worried that other people are going to learn from that and follow suit,” he said. “That’s something that really scares me.”
— Staff writer Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.