Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Leno and NBC prove contracts mean nothing

I know, i was bad.  I promised to be very prompt with new posts, and I failed.  But I've crawled out of my hole to speak out about an outrageous issue in the late-night television world. The issue? Jay Leno.

Or perhaps, more specifically, Jay Leno's ego.

Jay Leno....

Stealing "The Tonight Show" out from under the heels of David Letterman was bold enough. The man says one sly thing to Hugh Grant and suddenly he's the funniest man in the world. The funniest part of Jay's 'Tonight Show' was always 'Headlines' and 'Jay Walking'. 'Headlines' necessitating other people pointing out funny mistakes in publications FOR Leno, and Jay-walking being a featurette of people making fools of themselves.

He announces retirement, and Conan fans hear that they only have to wait five years for their prayers to be answered...but Jay got jealous. So he joined the the primetime lineup st 10pm (a timeslot that has ALWAYS brought in NBC success, right?), forcing Conan to follow him yet again.

But Jay's time in NBC executives' beds was not over yet.  Suddenly, Jay and NBC realize that the primetime audience is awake enough to realize 'Oh, he really isn't funny." And decide to pull one of the biggest insults in television history: Pushing 'The Tonight Show', and its fifty-six-year legacy back to 12:05am, which pushes 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' back to 1:05am, and poor Carson Daly into Neverneverland. And whatever for? To let one washed-up comedian relive the glory days he didn't earn to begin with.

It has been announced that 'The Jay Leno Show' has been canceled...but this sorry excuse for an entertainer will be given half an hour to do...something (anything!) before Conan and his legendary desk roll in just after midnight...again.

Now, this is not entirely Jay's fault, mind you.  Jay's plan requires an extreme amount of stupidity on the part of  the  NBC executives.  And stupidity, for the record, is the most appropriate word that can be used, if for no other reason than the fact that both Johnny Carson AND Jay Leno himself struggled when they first got the seat...so why should it be a surprise that Conan's ratings have been wavering? They still are not as bad as Jay's were, which kind of throws that whole 'Jay will get ratings because he's on earlier' theory out the window, doesn't it? Conan also struggled when he first got Letterman's spot at 'Late Night', he was fully aware of this, as was most people in the world. So why are we getting so offended that Letterman is getting higher ratings?  (Certainly his back-to-back blockbuster scandals couldn't have anything to do with it? No, stupid me, using my brain like that).

In the last decade, the executives on NBC, have brought the network, the once unchallengeable Number One Cable Network down to averaging Number Four and Five. Well, at least you got FOX and The WB/CW, (although that is a little like a slumping baseball team beating the Kansas City Royals and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals).
But I digress.

Pushing Conan back disrespects a lot of things.  The first being Conan O'Brien, a man who signed a contract and believed that it meant something. A man who worked his tail off to earn a spot that thousands dream of having. He worked through hard-times and good times to prove himself at 12:35am, night after night for 17 years. He moved his family, his crew (and their families), and his band (and their families) to LA...because he had achieved his dream. A dream job...that NBC might have torn away from him after only 7 months. (Steve Allen: 3 Years, Jack Parr: 5 years, Johnny Carson: 30 years, Jay 'Heartless' Leno: 16 years).

Luckily, as i've been writing this, Conan has proven his quality as a person in a released statement:

"People of Earth:

In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky. That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn't matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way.



I applaud you Conan. If Jay Leno re-claims "The Tonight Show", as far as I'm concerned, after 57 years, NBC decided to torpedo one if its most successful shows, and a landmark of television. (Watch your back 'SNL"!) Good for you, Conan. I'm proud to see you stand-up in the face of unprofessional-ism. To the people who are used to reading me, I don't need to make a very obvious comparison to certain student-run, Maryland university newspaper.

What happens next will be interesting. Will NBC decide to disgrace 'The Tonight Show' and end its run and its reputation in humiliation and failure? Or will they realize their folly, keep Conan where he deserves to be, and kick that self-centered chin to the curb once and for all?

I have never seen an episode of "The Jay Leno Show", when it has been put on in my presence, I have demanded it turned off (only once was this ignored, forcing me to leave the room), and if he takes over 'Tonight' again, then Conan's last episode will be the last one I watch. I can't go so far as to say i'll boycott the network...but this little stunt certainly puts that option in sight.

Hopefully this can all be resolved professionally, and correctly. I'd tell you to open your windows and shout something about being 'as mad as hell', but no amount of protest seems to sway NBC's foolishness.

And who knows, if Tiger Woods can muster-up an apology, maybe Leno can too. But whether he can or not, we can only hope they bring in The Donald to give Jay the only timeslot-guarantee he desrves: "You're fired."


  1. The creation of the Jay Leno Show was a slap in the face to Conan's take-over of The Tonight Show. It's existence plagued Conan's chance of success from the start. Conan SHOULD be upset with the way NBC has treated him. This whole situation is such a throwback to all the drama with Letterman that Leno apparently wanted to "avoid" this time around. Thankfully, Conan is way too classy for all this.

    Sadly, I think NBC WILL drop him, but I don't doubt another network will snatch him up. We'll see how they feel when Jay's ratings inevitably drop, though. I predict lots of "I told ya so"s. Go Coco!

  2. The networks can't compete with cable and other outlets. The have little to hold onto. NBC desperation for "inventiveness" (or perhaps their legalese commitment to Leno) has them sabotaging their legacy. Like free radio, free TV has gone the way of vinyl. If you're too young to get that, maybe NBC really OUGHT to reconsider their legacy....