Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Late Shift

What the hell is going on with NBC? Are they imploding?

I just watched Conan O'Brien's opening monologue tonight, and then I read the statement he released on Tuesday:
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'm a total night-owl, and I've always liked both Conan and Leno's shows. Why did NBC screw with a good lineup? In 2004, when the future change was announced, I kind of figured Leno was retiring. So when I heard he would have a new show, I thought it was kind of cool. I'm not exactly TV network savvy, so I didn't anticipate Leno's low ratings... but neither did NBC.

Some say the 10pm timeslot shouldn't matter in this day of DVRs and streaming video. I'm not so sure. Maybe because it's a show that airs every day, I know if I recorded it, I'd never get around to watching all of them. I watch the show when it airs... if I remember that it's on. That's the key thing. 10pm just didn't work for me. Some nights there are other shows I want to watch at that time, and also 10pm is my prime-time for blogging.

But giving the Tonight Show back to Leno, after a mere 7 months with Conan as host, crushes my loyalty to NBC and Leno. Leno will come out looking like a jerk. NBC just looks stupid.

Are they stupid? They expect to lose money broadcasting the Vancouver Olympics. Now there is something I'm not into: the Olympics. Seems every time I turn around, there's an Olympic broadcast dominating the television schedule. There's the perfect opportunity for new media and streaming video if NBC honestly wants to be experimental.

I'm not mocking experimenting. If anything, they should stick with the experiment. NBC should give Conan more than seven months to develop an audience. And for Leno? Make room for him somewhere else. What about the weekends? I'd love to have some decent comedy to watch on Sunday nights.

Or he could retire from television and build some kind of automobile empire. That's not a bad idea actually.

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