It seemed like a reasonably solid idea when NBC first announced Jay Leno would take over the 10 p.m. slot on its weekday schedules: He’d always been a late-night champ, and the network was struggling for viable, inexpensive programming. And while the move didn’t bode well for broadcast programming as a whole — do the math, and we were losing five hours of prime-time fare — it felt slightly less depressing than seeing some awful low-budget reality shows taking the slot. But now that the ratings have shaken out, down to, well, not much, and better-at-10 shows are either fading (Law & Order: SVU) or dead (Southland), the outlook has darkened for this particular experiment in TV programming, as The New York Times‘ Bill Carter dissects thoroughly in a weekend piece.

There is, however, a sunny side to this: If Leno had succeeded at 10, it could have marked — to be melodramatic — the beginning of the end of network television. As much as rival networks have strutted around gloating that they didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures to fill their schedules, you better believe that if this thing had killed, the likes of Letterman and Kimmel would’ve found themselves preparing for prime time. (And we’ve already lost Saturday nights to mostly repeats, and Fridays could be next if its ratings get any weaker; meanwhile, The CW has given up Sundays.) As it stands, though, networks will have to keep slogging through for good shows instead of just throwing a guy in a suit on at 10 to make us chuckle.

What do you think though, PopWatchers? Do you prefer scripted television at 10 p.m.? Do you wish Leno were doing better? Do his struggles surprise you?

Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/NBC