[Revisiting] Time to Go, Leno: The NBC Late Night Lambaste.
So with the Late Night talk-show scene finally, seemingly, settled down and back in place, I thought I might re-visit an old blog I wrote for another site regarding the whole Leno-Conan thing, and then the subsequent Letterman, Kimmel, Ferguson and Fallon aftermath. Currently, Conan’s new TBS show is working EVERYone over, but we’ll see what the ratings say once he’s settled into the middle of the season. He left NBC on top of the ratings, and debuted on TBS on top too, hopefully he can keep up the pace. As we wait for the numbers to roll in, enjoy this blast from the past (you guys get an extra link and a few new pics in this version):
[originally post on Jan 13, 2010 for campusintel.com ]
Wow, NBC really screwed the pooch on the Late Night scene, didn’t they?
How can you shuffle and promote your hosts up the ranks (Fallon to Late Night, Conan out of Late Night and to The Tonight Show, Leno out of The Tonight Show and then to his own show) the same way that has been done since Late Night comedy shows have been on, find out that your ratings weren’t doing what you thought they would, and then expect all the hosts to react peacefully to your suggestion of a shuffle-back like you were taking a mulligan in golf, and not have a problem with it?
That Tonight Show hosting gig has been the crown jewel for late night talk show hosts since the Johnny Carson era; coveted by many, but obtained by few (originally debuted in 1954 with host Steve Allen). David Letterman was very public about his desire to host the show when Carson was retiring, when he was still hosting the Late Night show that Conan O’Brien inherited sequentially. When he was not chosen as Carson’s successor and Leno was, Letterman took a hike over to CBS and then became The Tonight Show’s direct and main competition, hosting The Late Show. For some reason, all indications were that Leno beat Letterman in the ratings for the 17 years he hosted the show; though I always felt The Late Show was way more entertaining. Which brings me to my next point:
Jay Leno sucks.
I’m sure he’s a nice dude (well, I’m not really sure from personal experience, but he seems like he’d be nice), but I just never liked his show. Anyone who’s had a chance to listen to Howard Stern has likely heard Stern rant about how bad Leno is, how he’s ruined NBC, and how Leno stole a lot of his material and used it on The Tonight Show. The new Jay Leno Show is basically the same show as his Tonight Show routine, just at a different time, and the ratings are tanking; as opposed to when he was on an hour later doing the same material, and ruling the ratings. So what’s the difference? Maybe there’s more to that 11:35 pm EST show time slot that we realize…
Now after a 6 year warning of the switch, and only 7 months into the new lineup, for some reason NBC just expects Conan and Fallon to bump themselves back an hour (keeping the names of their shows) so they can rotate Leno back into the fold at the cushy time slot. Thankfully, Conan balked at the idea, saying in an interview:
Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009… 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.
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.
Why does NBC insist on milking a dry cow (Leno)? Surely it took Leno longer than 7 months to develop a loyal following and ratings spike; how in the world is 7 months long enough for Conan to do the same, especially after they told him for 6 years that he was going to be “the guy” for that show, and all the previous hosts got from 3-30 years at that slot?
The only real solution is that Leno needs to walk away. Look Jay, it’s over. You had your time in the sun; all 17 years of it. You did good. You’re not putting up the numbers that you need to, and now it’s time to move on. Late Night television on NBC is in good hands, and will be fine without you. You’ve got plenty of money, and lots of cars to drive around. If you really have the itch, you can always hit the stand-up circuit. It’s time to pass the torch! Letterman’s better than all of you anyways.