"The Leno experiment is not working so far," said Bob Prather, Gray's president-COO. "I'm sure they'll stick with it longer than they need to ... their ego won't let them probably get rid of it soon enough."
Prather did say he had no specifics on any revenue impact the show may be having at Gray's 10 NBC stations, but that it has dragged down late-news ratings and "in the long run it could hurt us" significantly.
He said Gray is monitoring the situation and will make its feelings known to NBC.
Gray's NBC affiliates are in mid- and small-size markets, such as Omaha; Madison, Wis.; South Bend; and Huntington, West Va. Its 10 NBC stations provide about as much cash flow as its 17 CBS affiliates, which have been benefiting from that network's prime-time health.
"They need some programming pizzazz, which they don't have right now," Prather said of NBC.
Gray CEO Hilton Howell did say Gray is optimistic that given its fresh programming year-round, "The Jay Leno Show" will prove resilient when it faces a steady diet of reruns on the competition.
Nationally, for the first six weeks of the broadcast season, the Leno show is averaging a 1.7 in the 18-to-49 demo in live-plus-same-day ratings. Over the same period last season, NBC averaged a 2.7 in the demo in the weeknight 10 p.m. hour.
Prather and Howell spoke on a conference call to discuss third-quarter results -- a period when Gray announced it no longer faced the prospect of delisting from the New York Stock Exchange.
Revenues fell 20% to $66.4 million in the third quarter as the ad market continued to be bumpy. The decline is mitigated, however, if the heavy political advertising last year is not factored in.
Local ad dollars were down 11%, while national dropped 27%.
Gray posted a loss of about $10 million, after a profit of $1.5 million a year ago.
Prather said the company continues to look to build its Web sites linked with its stations. He is encouraging them not to save content for on-air. "Breaking news needs to be on the Internet first, and then we need to promote" that it will be covered on-air with "more in-depth coverage."