Edited to bold the line below because apparently Conan being much sought after in 2004 is not common knowledge. What?
With the NBC late-night drama continuing, more and more people are getting into the discussion. But really, it’s more of a witch hunt on Jay Leno.
My question is, why all the hate on Jay Leno?
First of all, it was in September 2004 that NBC announced Conan O’Brien would take over as Tonight Show host in 2009 all in an effort to stop Conan from possibly moving to then Kimmel-less ABC or Fox. CBS was even in the picture as they were looking for someone to replace Craig Kilborn.
Enter Jeff Zucker and his bright ideas, he goes to Jay Leno with the idea, Jay has no choice but to agree and say he’ll retire anyway. He could very well have planned on retiring in 2009… but five years is a long time. Things change.
In 2004, Jay could very well have played the victim too. He was being pushed out of the Tonight Show studio at a time when the show (and the rest of NBC Late Night) was dominating. But he didn’t and instead served as a lame duck host… though the most watched lame duck host in late night.
Here it is January 2009. Thanks to Zucker Genius and his junior genius Ben Silverman, NBC is in 4th place and has a reputation of putting on crap (which may or not be justified), what could they possibly do? It was time for NBC to gamble.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was still #1, and Jay Leno himself was rethinking retirement. Why retire so soon? If NBC didn’t want him, well, another network certainly would.
Aha! Déjà vu! Another top rated NBC Late Night host could be up for grabs and Fox most of all was ready to catch him.
Like in 2004, NBC didn’t want to let another network possibly benefit from one of their own. So, here was the gamble… Keep Jay Leno, put him in primetime. That keeps him on the network, possibly shores up the primetime bleeding, and it saves money (Zucker, Angela Bromstad and etc’s favorite mantra).
Fast forward to Fall 2009. The Tonight Show is neck and neck with and half of the time, losing to The Late Show with David Letterman for the first time in years. Jay Leno is attracting a similar-sized audience in a timeslot 95 minutes earlier from when he was #1. That size of an audience, while a winner in Late Night, is a loser in primetime.
The gamble doesn’t pay off. Affiliates get pissy, viewers cry fowl over a lost 10pm timeslot (which no one watched in the first place! See: Southland, Life, Lipstick Jungle, ER, Journeyman, Las Vegas, My Own Worst Enemy)… NBC dug itself a deeper hole.
So what is NBC to do? They fixed something that wasn’t broken in the first place. They could’ve found another way to keep Conan in 2004 without having to get rid of Jay. That was their first and probably biggest mistake.
A couple of months after their bright idea fails, NBC wants to go back to a year ago when their Late Night was their most stable daypart and their primetime was the only worry. That would mean reinstating the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien tandem that has ruled the past couple of years.
But Conan has been promised The Tonight Show, it’s in his contract. Jay is open to return to 11:35.
Compromise… The Jay Leno Show moves from primetime to 11:35pm as a half-hour show. The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien moves to 12:05am, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon goes on at 1:05am. Sorry Carson Daly.
But Conan doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want The Tonight Show to start tomorrow. It’s a historic change to a television institution. Very understandable.
Cue the hate train on Jay Leno, because he is the president of NBC and makes all the scheduling decisions for the network. Oh wait… he’s not? He doesn’t? Oh.
Well, Jay Leno should quit.
He’d like to have a steady paying job you say? Oh, God forbid someone wants to accept a job, especially when we’re in some great economic times, yeah?
Hmm… what else is there to hate Jay Leno on?
Okay, you may not like his comedy or think he is remotely funny. But he was still #1, which means there were millions of people who preferred watching him than anything else on at 11:35pm. That audience mostly followed him to 10pm, they didn’t stay on NBC though at that same timeslot.
Bottomline… Jay Leno was winning. And so was Conan O’Brien.
If it were up to me, I would’ve kept Jay Leno in primetime on nights when NBC has had trouble finding a decent 10pm program. Wednesdays and/or Fridays, maybe even Mondays would’ve been good choices, or maintaining a 3-hour Thursday comedy block, with The Jay Leno Show continuing to serve as a weekend movie promo stop.
As NBC seems to love doing things hastily (canceling shows, promising shows to people years in advance… etc), instead of possibly reformatting the show, cutting it down to maybe one or two nights a week, basically finding a way for the show to work (and it was entirely possible it could), they outright canceled it.
A once or twice a week Jay Leno Show would’ve probably been a good idea. Save up the big guests and best content from five nights for one or two BIG shows a week, making it more “must-see.” But no, just cancel it and give the network more trouble than they needed.
NBC Universal still looking really good Comcast?
So, NBC continues leaping into an empty pool. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
But this whole mess isn’t Jay Leno’s fault. It isn’t Conan O’Brien’s fault.
Their only sins are being the two most watched Late Night hosts on television. Which means they’re both wanted, they’re both sought after. Both very valuable and worth a lot to any network, most especially their home network NBC.
Chalk this drama up to one rash decision made five and a half years ago, which started a chain reaction, and now illicited some violent, sometimes idiotic reaction from the masses.
NBC went from #1 to #4 in the span of 5 years. In that same 5 years, the person who started this chain reaction, Jeff Zucker has been promoted 3 times. THREE TIMES! Not only that, he is guaranteed an executive position in the new NBC Universal-Comcast conglomerate. Something doesn’t add up.
If anyone deserves hate and blame in all of this, it’s Mr. Jeff Zucker. For ruining NBC Late Night. For ruining NBC Primetime. For ruining NBC’s reputation.
Funny, NBC Daytime (read: Days of our Lives) is now NBC’s most stable daypart. Funny, that’s the daypart Jeff Zucker micromanaged and had nothing to do with.