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Some comments on The Tonight Show kerfuffle…

Filed under: Television — Charlie Summers @ 7:06 pm

Like the rest of America, I am staring transfixed at the most recent NBC blow-up, a real-life drama vastly better than any “reality” program or scripted drama could possibly be and something closer to a train-wreck than a programming decision. And all of this is caused by a combination of simple factors…apparently every NBC executive is a complete and utter moron who thought the network could have it all.

It’s important to remember the seeds for this started five years ago, when Conan O’Brien’s contract was up for renewal. It was decided by the network to keep him from jumping to another network (FOX, ABC) by promising him the crown jewel of The Tonight Show that early, and kicking down-the-road what to do about the now-lame-duck Jay Leno, who accepted the firing (yeah, although he had one helluva long severance period) with barely-contained grace. Leno pushed the Sisyphean bolder to the top of the late-night hill, and it was clear to everyone he was being slapped in the chin as a thank-you.

Last year, when the end was clearly near, NBC had to deal with that can they kicked, and decided to bump Leno to prime time to keep him from bolting to another network (ABC, FOX) while the untested and untried O’Brien faced his toughest battle, one he has yet in seven months to win. Unlike a whole lot of people, I did not hate the idea of a prime-time Leno show; the pseudo-reality garbage cluttering up the airwaves runs a whole lot more than five hours a week, so blaming Leno for the lack of scripted television is idiotic. I admit after watching the first few programs, realizing it was nothing more than The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno in prime time was a little disappointing, since I figured something leaning more toward the variety shows of the past would work better, but I am also smart enough never to bet against Leno, whose work ethic and solid focus has consistently triumphed over those supposedly smarter, hipper, and funner than he. (Sorry, Dave, but you were supposed to win that battle handily and never really could. O’Brien must have been a refreshing change…someone who presumed to be hipper than you, yet someone you could handily knock off first place.)

And NBC knew this “experiment,” as they called it, was going to cause a severe ratings drop. They knew because they promised advertisers a much lower audience count, one The Jay Leno Show pretty much hit. But they were fine with the lower audience count, since with a show so much cheaper to produce they could afford to bleed eyeballs and still make a tidy profit on the show.

Yet last week every executive at the network was shocked…shocked I say…to discover that lower ratings at 10:00pm would equate to lower ratings at 11:00pm.

This is why I state categorically that every exec at the network is clearly a moron. One plus one still equals two, and if you’re going to intentionally throw people out of your boat, you sure as blazes can’t expect them to jump back in an hour later. Heck, I’m not a highly-paid executive, and even I can see that. (Or maybe it’s because I’m not a highly-paid executive…perhaps brain-damage is part of the job requirement to work in television.)

So NBC, in some bizarre attempt to keep the Carson/Leno/Letterman public relations disaster from occurring again has created a drama of even more epic proportions…and their desperate solution of adding yet-another late-night show to the mix has done nothing but show them to be conniving weasels with no thought at all for the future farther than ten minutes from now, and maybe no thought at all period.

So here we stand; as I write this, O’Brien has made it clear he will not take The Tonight Show to midnight, Leno is keeping his head down through yet another period of lame-duckness and making fun of the network every night in prime time while apparently being agreeable to anything just to keep him in enough good graces that he can, eventually, reclaim The Tonight Show, and David Letterman has got to be sitting back glad to be completely out of this mess. About the only one sweating bullets right now is Carson Daly, who is scheduled to lose the show he uses for little more than promoting the musical artists he has under contract (think of him as a poor-man’s Simon Cowell without the accent or talent.)

Me, I would have pushed The Jay Leno Show to 8:00pm every evening…NBC would still have a cheap hour every night, and it wouldn’t have the same effect on the affils, since there would be two hours to rebuild the audience. That would have forced Leno to change the show somewhat (there are firm rules at 8:00pm that aren’t in effect at 10:00pm), but would have avoided this whole mess for the rest of this year, when NBC could easily have replaced the under-performing O’Brien with Leno cleanly. But I’m not a moron, so what do I know? Instead, we’ll see more sturm und drang until everyone involved is tainted by the stain…and hopefully Comcast cleans house of the chuckleheads who destroyed a once-proud network.

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One Response to “Some comments on The Tonight Show kerfuffle…” »


  1. Nostalgic Rumblings » Don’t Cry for Me, Downtown Burbank Says:

    […] Indeed, Leno acted (as I mentioned in a previous post) as a lame duck for five years, and still maintained the number-one position in late night, something O’Brien couldn’t maintain. Blaming Leno for this disaster is foolhardy…blame the morons at NBC instead. […]

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