I've been ever so closely* monitoring the complete disaster that is transpiring over at NBC regarding Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. It has gone from interesting, to amusing, to now pretty fucking hostile. Now, I'm not really a late night show watcher. If I'm watching TV after 11:00 it's probably one of 3 things: Sportscenter, Pac-10/Gonzaga basketball, or Skinemax. I don't tune in for the Tonight Show or the Late Show with a great deal of frequency anymore. The only show of that genre that I have ever watched was Late Night with Conan O'Brien. I find Conan absolutely hilarious, so it's entirely possible that I'm a little bit biased here. But it really seems to me like NBC totally fucked this up.
Once upon a time Leno was number one in the 11:35 (Eastern) slot, Conan dominated his time slot and all was well. NBC had all the late night ratings it could ask for. But Leno was getting a little older, Conan was starting to feel like doing something beyond Late Night, so they concoct this deal: In 5 years Jay will retire and Conan will take over the Tonight Show. Deal? Deal.
Well before you know it 5 years has gone by, Jay and the Tonight Show are still #1, and Conan is ready to take over the headlining gig. Then I don't know what the hell happened. I don't know if Jay got Favre-itis and decided " actually, I'm not really ready to retire" or if NBC just thought they could pull a fast one on the viewers and save some coin in the process. But they decide to save the money they would've spent on more primetime programming, and just put the still popular Leno in the pre-news time slot. Genius! Right? Actually, no. I don't know if I was the only one who foresaw this ending in disaster, but as soon as that idea came out I couldn't help but think that it was doomed. "But the Leno Show will be different," they said. Really? It's a talk show with guests and goofy hijinks. The people that want to watch guests and goofy hijinks are not going to watch both Leno and The Tonight Show. It seemed obvious that the people that watched the Tonight Show because they loved Leno were going to watch the new Leno show and the ones that watched because it's the Tonight Show were going to watch Conan. Congratulations NBC, you successfully halved your audience! (I won't even get into the obvious slight to Conan that after finally moving up to the Tonight Show, he still has to follow Leno.)
So here we are a little over 6 months later, and both Conan's and Leno's ratings suck. NBC is blaming this on everything but the obvious. Leno has poor lead in programming. Conan is just not capturing the audience. If Johnny Carson had gotten his own show right before Leno's Tonight Show, how do you think Leno would've done? No one is pointing the finger at the brain trust that came up with this debacle of a plan. Now they want to move the Tonight Show out of the spot it's held for like 40 years and move Leno back after the local news. Conan says screw this, and I can't say I blame him. He said through a spokesperson "It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor [Leno], I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule." Not only has he not gotten those things, but NBC seems to have intentionally deprived him of them both. Conan is right, moving the Tonight Show back would do some serious damage to one of the greatest franchises in broadcasting history. I don't blame him one bit if he doesn't want anything to do with, and tells NBC to sit and spin.
*May be exaggeration