Latenight reruns mean stars can't plug movies

Studios and stars have lost one of their most important seats when it comes to promoting a movie: The latenight couch.

Latenight talkshows were the first casualty of the walkout, airing reruns Monday. Beyond the immediate effect on creatives and crews of these shows, there are other wide-ranging results such as the impact on movie marketing and flow of studio advertising dollars to television.

Studios are readjusting ad buys, telling the networks they don’t want to advertise while latenight talkshows are in reruns. They’re also likely to pull advertising from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which is going into reruns because of the strike.

For now, movie advertising during primetime should remain largely unaffected. That will change if it’s a prolonged strike and shows go into reruns. Based on viewing patterns this fall, the latenight crowd on the broadcast nets (led by Leno on NBC and Letterman on CBS) could expect to see somewhere between a 10%-15% falloff as they shift from originals to repeats. Of course, that gap could grow if the monologues and guests become so stale as to keep auds away altogether on a regular basis.

On Monday of this week, Leno’s “Tonight Show” repeat saw a rather sharp decline from the previous week’s original episode (a 3.1 rating/8 share in metered markets vs. 3.9/10), as most viewers seemed aware of the strike as well as Leno’s participation in picketing alongside the writers. Letterman’s “Late Show” was down, but by not quite as much (3.4/9 vs. 3.9/10). ABC’s “Nightline” seemed to benefit, rising a tick week to week (3.3/8 vs. 3.2/8).

Overnights weren’t available for Monday’s latenight cable programs, but the topical programs fronted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert should expect to see steep declines as they go into repeats. Both “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” tumbled by about 35% when comparing their most recent repeat weeks vs. their recent firstrun averages.

When it comes to plugging a film, there’s no replacement for booking a star on NBC’s “The Late Show With Jay Leno,” CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which all sport a national aud that’s predominantly male.

“Those shows are hugely important,” one marketing and publicity exec said. “They are their own beast. It’s not like you can make it up with morning shows and midday shows, because those are mostly watched by women. You are sort of stuck in a corner, and have to hope that the weight of everything else in your campaign will carry you through.”

This week, a number of thesps have had to cancel their latenight plans.

  • Meryl Streep was set to appear on the Letterman show Thursday, on the eve of the release of United Artists’ “Lions for Lambs,” which also stars Tom Cruise and Robert Redford.

  • Latenight plugs for Warner Bros.’ “Fred Claus,” which opens Friday, included Vince Vaughn set to appear on Letterman today, Paul Giamatti on Leno the same night and Kevin Spacey to talk to Leno on Friday.

  • Tommy Lee Jones was to appear on Leno’s show Monday, plugging the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” which Miramax opens Friday in a limited release.

With the holiday season getting under way, this parade of stars would have increased. There’s also the cluster of late-late talkshows hosted by Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson and Carson Daly that has gone dark. (Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” also has become fertile ground for publicizing movies.)

The big question is whether latenight talkers will go back on the air despite the strike, as they did during the 1988 writers walkout.

Networks are suggesting as much to studios, saying, for instance, that Leno and Letterman could drop the monologue and do more interviews.

News wasn’t all bad Tuesday. Studios with bookings on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” got word the show hasn’t gone dark, despite speculation to the contrary that was triggered when a rerun aired Monday night.

“It’s a very fluid situation,” said one exec. “We’re constantly keeping our eyes on things.”

Morning news shows and midday programs like “Ellen,” “Regis & Kelly” and “The View” are already prime stops for studios, and they probably can’t offer up many more spots to make up for the absence of the latenight lineup. More importantly, their audience is different.

The three networks’ daytime talkshows are mostly unaffected by the strike, because they are under the news divisions. For instance, Cruise, Streep and Redford will be seen in a taped interview together for ABC’s “Good Morning America” this week, while Vaughn is set to appear Thursday on “Ellen.”

Second-tier daytime talkshows on various cable nets could see a bump. Also, publicity departments might log more calls to PBS’ talk hosts Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley.

Regional efforts

Studios are responding to the loss of latenight in other ways. Some are already boosting their regional publicity efforts. For example, Warners is doing more satellite feeds of Vaughn that regional newscasts can pick up.

“If you are trying to hit major television markets, it’s not as effective as the latenight shows, but it’s something,” one Disney exec said.

Or, as a someone at Warners put it, “you have to do a lot more of everything else just to create the same noise. It’s a big deal for us, since we have a lot of movies coming up.”

(Rick Kissell contributed to this report.)

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