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How Leno Led to Conan's Demise at NBC

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 , Posted by Daisy at 12:00 AM

You know this is all Jay's fault right?  If you don't understand then let me explain.

It has just been announced that NBC has decided to move Conan's Tonight Show to 12:05 to make room for Jay's planned new half-hour show which is to start at 11:35.  Conan has protested that the Tonight Show isn't the Tonight Show if it doesn't start at 11:35 and has made it clear that he will leave the network if his show does not stay where it is.  So how did the network get to this point?  You can blame it all on Jay Leno.

Back in 2004 when Conan's contract came up for renewal, NBC added a clause to his new contract in order to secure him to the network when Jay ends his reign in 2009.  Jay's plan at the time was to retire in 5 years.  The clause stated that if for any reason Conan does not take over the Tonight Show then NBC will compensate him $40m for breaching the contract. Had Jay stuck to the plan, then NBC and Conan would not find themselves in this predicament now.  Instead, just months before the end of his run as host of the Tonight Show, Jay changes his mind.  He was not ready for retirement.

NBC was then faced with a dilemma.  If they keep Jay as the host of the Tonight Show they might lose Conan to another network and still have to pay him $40m.  But if they decide to stick to their contract with Conan, then Jay, a proven success at his craft, would be free to host a competing show at another network, as he had hinted.  Faced with this unexpected threat, NBC tried to hit three birds with one stone by giving Jay a new show at 10:00.  Not only would they keep both talents in the network and not have to pay Conan the $40m, but they could save themselves a lot of money by having Jay's talk show replace 5 much more expensive to produce 1-hour prime time shows.

The current problem is that Jay could not pull in the numbers.  Local NBC affiliates lost viewership for their nightly news programs because Jay could not compete with the other network's 10:00 prime-time shows.  This is as much the fault of the network as it is Jay's.  At the affiliates' request NBC had no choice but to cancel Jay's show.

So why is Conan the one paying for their mistakes?  Blame it on Jay Leno.  The fact that NBC would all of a sudden announce this new line-up means that Leno must have likely demanded the 11:35 spot and once again threaten to leave the network. If he had done the gracious thing and bowed out without threatening the network then Conan would not find himself in the position that he's in. But rather he chooses to underhand his successor because he knows he could do it.

Jay's ego sabotaged the whole NBC infrastructure the first time making it difficult for the network, Conan, and Jimmy Fallon.  His refusal to quit impeded on Conan's ability to succeed.  Now faced with the cancellation of his own show, his ego has once again brought problems to Conan, Fallon, and the network and it doesn't appear that he cares.  This time Conan is not having it.

NBC keeps making one mistake after another.  But this appears to be the biggest one yet.  Leno's image is tarnished.  He'll never be able to get the same viewership he had before.  Besides, Conan's wittier, edgier, and a whole lot funnier anyway.  It's too bad he has to be collateral damage.  All NBC's current troubles keep coming from the same source, Jay Leno's ego.

There's a movie called The Late Shift.  It tells the story of how Leno's manager was able to steal the Tonight Show from David Letterman leading up to the retirement of Carson causing Letterman to announce his departure from the network.  It's pretty interesting.  It makes you think quite differently of Leno.  Hollywood refers to him as the 'walking dead man' for a reason..

Currently have 2 comments:

  1. LOL... nice revisionist history there. Conan's contract negotiations were at an impasse back in 2004, and the only deal-maker was a spot on the Tonight Show. Leno had no intentions of retiring back in 2004... let alone today... and he was forced out in order for NBC to re-sign Conan.

    And said early termination clause was brought upon by Conan - remember he himself had been jerked around by NBC with their 13 week contracts back in the early years of Late Night.

    I love Conan, but he really should have considered the domino effect of his negotiation tactics 5 years down the line.

  1. Markenstein says:

    I don't doubt that Conan would demand the clause to protect himself. But $40m is just too high a figure to justify what you have suggested. NBC would not put $40m on the table if they were made aware at the time that Jay has no intentions of retiring.

    His new show is what's causing all the problems, including Conan's ratings. Even if he did not demand the 11:35 spot, he must have at least endorsed it. All that's happening is unjust for Conan and I don't think there's any way out but out. Jay wants this chair back and he's going to get it.

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