Leno and NBC: Measuring Damage to a Late Night Brand

NBC did serious harm to one of its most valuable properties when it tossed out its late-night succession plan in January -- and now we can say exactly how serious.

The number of people who view Jay Leno unfavorably increased dramatically in the weeks after the network announced it was moving him from the 10 p.m. slot it installed him in last summer back to 11:30, where he had long reigned as host of The Tonight Show. That's according to the latest survey from Marketing Evaluations Inc., the Long Island research film behind the closely watched "Q Scores," an objective measure of celebrities' likability.

Leno's "positive" Q rating -- i.e., the proportion of respondents who say they have a favorable view of him -- has remained relatively constant, going from 21 when the last survey was conducted, in July and August 2009, to 19 during this wave of interviews, conducted in January through early March 2010. That change is within the margin of error, says Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations.

The real movement was in Leno's negative Q, which zoomed from 26 to 35. That strongly suggests that the negative press Leno received during the weeks the conflict was playing out, including the merciless mockery Leno endured at the hands of David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, had an effect.

"The bottom line is that Leno suffered," says Levitt. "At this moment in time, there are way too many people who are not fond of him." He adds that the Q Scores of established performers rarely fluctuate much, so a change of this magnitude is quite significant.

Meanwhile, despite all the rallying to Team Coco, there's little evidence the controversy did anything to either help or harm Conan O'Brien's public image. His positive Q increased from 13 to 16, but his negative Q also rose, from 38 to 42. Both changes are within the margin of error.