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Obama on Leno: Politics Meets Hollywood

It says a lot about the intersection of politics and entertainment that President Barack Obama will pitch his economic recovery plan on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" tonight, Thursday, March 19.

Obama has broken a number of barriers, and now he'll be the first sitting president to make this kind of appearance on late night TV. Leno's couch usually hosts celebs pitching upcoming movies; now Obama, a unique type of celebrity, is pitching the economic future of the nation.

This appearance says that politics and the economy are such mainstream news,they fit right in with mainstream late-night programming. And it says that Obama is desperately seeking to reach the American public in a format they're familiar with, to speak directly to them in a language they understand, unmediated by the press. Forget about the traditional press conference format — Obama is trying to show he's a man of the people.

NBC* must be thrilled about the boost Obama is sure to give its ratings, and the exposure it'll give Leno, considering the move he's making in the fall to an hour-long show five days a week. And Obama's people like Leno because he attracts about 5.7 million viewers every night; and tonight is sure to attract many more. Leno's audience is reportedly more conservative and older than that of David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel, so it gives Obama the broadest audience to address. This is the audience he needs to sell on his plan.

Media watchers constantly bemoan the diminishing relevance of broadcast television — viewers are spending more time online and watching cable. But this validates the fact that there's no better way to reach a huge audience than on one of the major networks. This is a fact big marketers like Coke and Bank of America know well. NBC, ABC, and CBS, despite the fall-off in ad spending, still deliver mega eyeballs. Next week Obama is going primetime again, giving a press conference on Tuesday to address the economy.

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*NBC TV is a unit of General Electric , CNBC's parent company.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.