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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Indecisive Peacock

It turns out that the man with the chin is unkillable.

Just when you think that late night TV personality Jay Leno is going to either jump to ABC or FOX, NBC announces a last second deal to keep his royal chin-ness in the NBC kingdom for the foreseeable future. Not only will Jay stay at NBC, Jay will be headlining his own hour-long talk show (again)....this time in PRIMETIME. 

All together now:


Just what exactly is NBC trying to do with this move? It reeks of indecisiveness, rash emotional thinking and a complete disregard for television economics. Four years ago, NBC decided to announce that Conan O'Brien would be taking over The Tonight Show when Jay Leno's contract expired in 2009. The peacock seemed to have sensed O'Brien's dissatisfaction with his truly "Late Nite" 12:35 AM time-slot. So, in short NBC decided that retaining Mr. O'Brien's services were far more important to them than keeping Jay Leno. Done. They made their choice and that is the end of the story. At least it should have been.

It seems the good folks at NBC Universal had a change of heart. Maybe it was their compassion, maybe it was their sense of loyalty to Leno, or maybe it was their sudden realization that Leno's Tonight Show consistently beat every other program in their time-slot. How could they possibly dismiss this cash cow.....I mean, valued employee?

And as if losing those cushy ratings weren't enough, NBC was running the risk of losing Jay to another network and creating a ratings rival. Instead of losing just David Letterman to a rival network, NBC would have lost both Jay Leno AND David Letterman to rival networks. Can you imagine how much that would sting their pride? And we all know how much pride leads one to make honest and sensical business decisions.

NBC decided that it was going to have its Late Night cake and eat its Primetimey goodness too, gosh darn it. The network is commissioning a brand new show for Jay Leno. It is still Jay Leno's show. It is still a variety program. It will still have guests. It will still air in the same Hollywood studio as The Tonight Show (Conan is getting a new studio). Now isn't that just exemplary of NBC's commitment to creative new ideas and thinking outside the box? But I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. Get this, instead of being a Late Night program, Jay's new show will air at 10:00 PM. Primetime, baby, Primetime.

NBC shareholders, just forget for the fact for a second:that talk shows and variety programs haven't made money in primetime since that '80s, that Rosie O'Donell's recent attempt at a primetime variety show was watched by only 5 million souls and handily destroyed by CBS's 60 Minutes, and that there is absolutely no guarantee that Leno's roughly 6 million late night viewers will follow him to 10:00; this is going to work. You know it will work because NBC is behind it and NBC doesn't make mistakes (forget: Knight Rider remake, aforementioned Rosie O'Donell show, My Own Worst Enemy, Four Kings, Law and Order: Trial by Jury and the 2,236,912 other failed shows NBC has cancelled this decade).

And then there's Conan. For a corporation that made a move based solely on Conan O'Brien's wishes, NBC has appeared shockingly unfaithful to its burgeoning star. How do think Conan feels now? He finally got the time-slot and the show he desired, only to find out later that that big-chinned bastard will have the better time-slot in front of him yet again. Then there's the matter of Leno's continued presence as a threat. It is very likely that Leno's 10:00 program on NBC is more than just a stab at more Primetime ratings, it is insurance. If for whatever reason, Conan O'Brien in an 11:35 timeslot completely bombs, NBC has their good old buddy Jay to turn to. NBC gave Conan O'Brien their full vote of confidence and then took it right back. It is like your parents finally giving you keys to the car, only when you hop in the driver's seat, you find out that they have hired a Secret Service agent to sit shotgun and go everywhere you go.

The only people that this deal hurts are NBC employees and the only people that it helps are the other networks. CBS, for one, absolutely could not be happier. Conan O'Brien probably won't lose that many viewers for The Tonight Show, but he will certainly be a drop-off, making the late night crown ripe for David Letterman's taking. As for Jay at 10:00? He won't even register on CBS's radar. They could easily move a CSI spin-off, or Without a Trace or even 60 Minutes to 10:00 and undoubtedly destroy Jay Leno so completely that NBC will have no choice other than to cancel his show. FOX doesn't care about 10:00 and even if Jay can beat ABC's 10:00 programming, it won't be by much. Meanwhile, Conan will be struggling to stay funny under pressure that his job could be snatched away at any moment, Jay will be struggling to stay funny under the limitations of a 10:00 airtime and NBC will be struggling to stay sane as they watch their network fall to CW-like Nielsen ratings.

In the end, NBC made more than a bad decision.

They made the kind of decision that keeps a network in last-place.

1 comment:

Ryan Lytle said...

Who knows? Maybe this will improve Conan's ratings against Letterman. People who have been faithful to Leno may stick around after his show to watch the earlier Conan now. It could be a good thing for all parties.