Not all networks are ready to throw out the playbook. CBS is on track to raise its ratings this season, boosted by established juggernauts such as the "CSI" franchise and its new shows such as "The Mentalist."
David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS Corp., contends that the network TV business isn't broken; it's just suffering from a temporary pullback in advertising.
"The recession is going to reduce the ad dollars that are available, but I've been through four recessions and that is expected," he said. "The advertising comes back with the recovery, and television comes out even stronger."
In the 1950s, late-night host Steve Allen successfully transitioned to prime time, but he eventually returned to late night with a syndicated show. He was an unusual case. Jack Paar and Dick Cavett tried and failed.
Maltby, the advertising buyer, said NBC's switch carried plenty of risk. If the new Leno show does not meet expectations, what does NBC do?
"How do they reprogram those five hours that they are taking away?" Maltby asked. "What NBC is attempting to do is fundamentally change people's TV viewing behavior. And then to ask them to switch back a year or so later is a pretty tall ask."
Said Starcom USA's Caraccioli-Davis: "I understand the vision, that this solves a lot of problems for NBC today. But I don't know where this takes them tomorrow."