Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Late Shift (Again)


Stop me if you've heard this one before, but it's official: NBC will be royally fucking over the most vital comedic talent currently on its payroll to make sure Jay Leno stays happy and, more importantly, stays put.

It's honestly staggering what the network is doing; when you stop and actually consider the Clash of the Titans-like machinations that have played out over the past few years at NBC, seemingly at the frivolous whim of the bored-petty-playful gods who run the place like the airwaves are their own personal social experiment, it boggles the mind. NBC inexplicably pushed Leno out of The Tonight Show while he was #1, gave the show to Conan O'Brien to keep him from jumping ship, effectively suffocated its prime time lineup and pissed off every affiliate on the map when Leno decided that the ego-bruising he took shouldn't go unanswered and threatened to take his top-rated milquetoast act to the competition, and now, according to CNN, it's going to essentially turn around and take The Tonight Show show back from Conan, either officially or unofficially, and give it to Leno for a half-hour and once again push Conan past midnight.

While at first glance it really does seem like the NBC suits are borderline sociopathic, there's of course a method to this madness: As usual, it all comes down to money. I've said this several times and I stand by it: NBC couldn't have cared less that Leno was tanking in the ratings at 10pm; it never mattered to them what kind of numbers he pulled in because his show was a major success where it mattered most -- making money. Leno's torturous prime time hour was dirt cheap to produce so in the end it was all profit, even if no one was watching; throw in the money the network was saving by not spending a fortune -- and taking a risk -- on five hour-long 10pm dramas and they may as well have put an ATM in Leno's parking spot. But what was threatening NBC's idyllic little cash harvest was an affiliate revolt that the network couldn't continue to quash through various strongarm tactics; the locals were getting killed by Leno, both in ad sales at 10pm and as a lead-in for their 11pm news (and to give you an example of the importance of the latter, at the time I was producing for KNBC, their 11pm show was responsible for a full 43% of the station's revenue). One affiliate, WHDH in Boston, had already gone head-to-head with NBC over Leno and recently dozens of others began threatening to pull the show, regardless of how NBC felt about it. The network had no choice but to concede.

Here's the thing, though: A lot like the taxpayer bailout of banks that deserved to fail because they'd been so obscenely mismanaged, Leno had his shot in prime time and it didn't work out (even if that shot had been cynically engineered by the NBC brain trust and was never really a great idea to begin with), yet he's going to get to keep his TV gig and an innocent party will have to foot the bill. It's too bad for Leno that his show had to be put out of its misery, but that doesn't mean NBC should be able to move all the pieces back where they were and pretend like it's, literally, business as usual. NBC screwed over Leno and then admittedly set him up to fail in prime time, but he did get a show in prime time -- it just didn't take off. The Tonight Show, at the start time it's had for years, belongs to Conan now because NBC said so and it shouldn't reserve the right to essentially take it away from him after a mere four months, or push it back in the schedule so that they theoretically honor his contract while actually pissing all over it and patting themselves on the back for their clever ingenuity in figuring out a way to have it all.

And that's what it really comes down to. NBC won't take responsibility for fucking everything up; they'll bail out Leno, trash their relationship with a very funny guy who's been a loyal marquee talent for them for 17 years and likely drive him to another network where the opening monologue on the first night of his new show will almost certainly feature nothing but jokes of the "Fuck You, NBC" variety, and when it's all over they'll have gained absolutely nothing but a PR disaster and a Tonight Show helmed by a host now generally viewed as a network-killer whose tainted reputation they themselves helped cement.

Leno should bow out gracefully, but it's his own ego and the dollar signs in NBC's eyes that'll make sure that doesn't happen.

By the way, if Conan does decide to swallow every ounce of his pride and go along with NBC's grand plan to push him back past midnight, the odd man out is Carson Daly, since Late Night and its funny-as-rectal-cancer host Jimmy Fallon would begin airing at 1:05am. NBC Universal TV chief Jeff Gaspin says that Daly's show would die, but that "Carson will be part of the NBC family regardless of what happens."

These days, considering how dysfunctional the "NBC family" is, that sounds more like a threat than reassurance.

11 comments:

revmuddswife said...

Are you sure he wasn't talking about +Johnny+ Carson?

Lily P said...

I love Conan. In my home country he is a golden god. Thanks for explaining the situation in a clear way - I don't know much about how American TV networks operate and I've been wondering what the hell is going on and why.

Brian H said...

Surely Conan's contract dictates The Tonight Show, at 11:35pm Eastern, for an hour? I don't know what TV contracts look like, but I'd assume.

How about Conan, Fox, 11pm?

Anonymous said...

I want Conan to take his 80 million and do something bigger and better. Let NBC eat itself.

Michael J. West said...

Why has nobody drawn the line yet between this and 1992, when NBC fucked over David Letterman (at the time when he the most vital comedic talent on its payroll) for precisely the same prize - Jay Leno?

And this wasn't even when Leno was the proven ratings and profit draw; yet they were willing to ignore the advice and selection of the must failsafe late-night personality that television has ever and will ever know to snare him.

Now they're doing the same thing after Leno has proven himself anything but failsafe.

How the fuck does Jay do it? What heinous sins did he see NBC execs commit and blackmail them with his knowledge of?

Anonymous said...

Fuck the Peacock Network. Right in the ass.

Conan, go to Fox. If I and millions of left-wingers and liberals can swallow the contradiction between loving Fox for The Simpsons, Family Guy and 24, while hating Fox News, you can do.

Capt Aclow said...

I've read that one option is for NBC to pay Conan $20 million a year to do nothing for 4 years to wait out his contract, but that if Conan went to Fox and got paid $15 million a year that NBC would only have to pay him the remaining $5 million.

If I was offered those options, I'd obviously sit on my ass for 4 years making $20 million a year because I'm a lazy fuck, but if I were Conan...

I'd take the late-night job at Fox for $1 a year so NBC still had to pay me the remaining $19,999,999.

Deacon Blue said...

I'm going to go against the grain a bit here. Just for shits and giggles. But also because I wonder...

Anyway, here goes...

First off, I really dig Conan. I haven't been able to watch him in years thanks to a high-energy child, but I always found that (aside from his first few awkward years) he was a true talent and a funny and insightful guy.

However, if I recall, haven't people complained that he lost a little something in his new, earlier time slot? That perhaps he was now playing to a different crowd and maybe losing a bit of himself in the process? Now, admittedly, he should be given time to get into the new groove. I don't argue that.

I also don't argue that NBC pooch-screwed all of this.

I don't argue that Leno has no right to take back what it rightfully Conan's.

I don't even argue that Conan shouldn't explore his options.

But, perhaps being pushed back a half hour ain't so bad. Perhaps this will put Conan in a time slot where he can woo both the people who didn't watch him before and the people who did.

And Jay Leno can be the weak warm-up act to get people ready to the real show.

Anonymous said...

Demote Jeff Zucker to the mail room. He's an over-educated blowhard, apparently without any sense of history, loyalty or viewing trends.

Secondly, cut Leno loose (is everyone really clamoring for him to return to The Tonight Show desk?) Then give the 11:35 slot back to The Tonight Show, where it's been practically since the dawn of television.

To anyone who thinks Conan or anyone else is going have a hit show on FOX at 11:00 PM, go back and familiarize yourself with history. They tried it with Chevy Chase, Dennis Miller and probably a few others I can't remember and it didn't work. Granted Conan has a little more on those guys, but the network and the time slot are all wrong. That's partly why Conan is ditching The Tonight Show -- any other time slot than 11:35 won't work.

It amazes me these large corporations hand the keys to the kingdom to blowhards like Zucker. It seems to be happening in other industries too. No mystery we're in the biggest recession since the great depression. Most of the clowns in upper management are inept, egocentric pansies who couldn't manage their way out of paper bag. So sad...

Steve said...

Michael J. West asked...

"How the fuck does Jay do it? What heinous sins did he see NBC execs commit and blackmail them with his knowledge of?"

Two words: Donkey pictures

Anonymous said...

Conan is the one show I watch every night. I'm a freaking hardcore fan. And there's millions of us.

Conan = Future Of Late Night.

-Letterman is getting old and has heart problems. While funny, most of his humour is just too old school for me.
-Craig Ferguson is mildly amusing but repetitive and Scottish.
-Leno is complete squeaky dogshit.
-Jimmy Kimmel comes in a close third behind Letterman but is spotty at best.
-Jimmy Fallon couldn't make me laugh if he sat under an obese woman while she farted into his mouth.

I've always loved the NBC brand. That might seem strange to some people but growing up watching Cheers, Wings, Working, Frazier, Seinfeld, and now with The Office, Parks and Rec, and Southland, I've always clicked to the NBC channel first.

After these executives(or possibly a singular "this" executive as you have pointed out) have raped Conan, who always stood them by them through thick and thin, including a humiliating takeover of the Tonight Show with squeakmaster leading him in, I have nothing but disdain for the peacock.