This week NBC announced that though they believed in their "experiment" to move Jay Leno into primetime was a good idea, the amount of pissed off affiliates was too much to bear and are pulling the plug, aaand shoving said plug into Conan O' Brien's face.
NBC announced that it will enact a clause in both Leno's and O'Briens contracts to allow NBC to move Lenos show to 11:35pm, and shorten to a half hour, while moving the Tonight Show to 12:05am. Away from the start time it's had for like, 50 years.
Why is this happening? Two reasons.
1) Your Local NBC station flipped the fuck out. Local affiliates make alot of their money from ad dollars from their local news broadcasts. So they need a strong lead-in show with high ratings to increase the amount of people who will watch the local news. Ever notice how within seconds of a 10pm hour long drama ending, the news starts up with some gripping headline of shock and crime? Now you know the reason. To try and suck all those viewers of the show that just ended into watching that news broadcast, including the commercials aired during it. OK. Well The Jay Leno Show did so poorly viewership wise, that the local affiliates saw upwards of a 50% drop off in viewership. Which made their local news adspace less profitable. Now even though the Jay Leno Show was making NBC money because its operating costs were still lower than the adspace revenue during its own broadcast. That doesn't do dick for the local WBNC's, KNBC's etc, around the country.
2) NBC is greedy. 17 years ago NBC created one of the most dramatic news stories of the past 20 years in TV by not only not giving Letterman the Tonight Show, BUT also trying to nail him to the wall with his own contract and keep him firmly at Late Night. Basically telling him tough titty we got paper with your ink on it. From that point it caused a year long battle over the Tonight Show, which ultimately led to David Letterman leaving to CBS and leaving NBC coming off like assholes. Today isn't much different. Instead of the plethora of options available to them, NBC has decided it would rather have 4 unhappy late night hosts, than 3 and one guy off happily in the hands of the enemy. Is it business? Yes. Is it also a dick move? Yes.
This isn't new for NBC. Back when Jack Paar left the Tonight Show, they gave him a prime-time show like Jay Lenos, except it only ran on fridays. It seems NBC has an almost devious inferiority complex when it comes to late night television.
Of all the options available to them,
-Give Leno a show just once a week like Paar from 10 to 11. Thus easing the pressure on affiliates.
-Give Leno a half hour during earlier primetime in any of the 4 slots between 8 and 10, 5 days a week.
-Give him a show on any of the other channels in NBC's lineup.
-LET LENO GO.
They decided on the option that speaks directly to how they will screw anyone to make sure no one else gets who they feel is theirs. The whole reason ANY of this ever happened was because when O'Brien was up for renewal, he asked for a guarantee of getting the Tonight Show at some point or he would walk, so NBC forced Leno to set a retire date against his wishes, because god forbid they lost Conan then, But God forbid they lost Leno too (who began talking with ABC about taking Kimmel's timeslot), so *poof* The Jay Leno Show.
Since the news, rumors have come in that O'Brien wants out of his contract, and FOX is courting him openly as they've never had a handle on late night and feel his demographic will play best there.
The smallest, sad little WTF part of all this is, if it happens as NBC wants it, "Later" now called "Last Call" will be canceled after 22 years. Was it the best show? No not at all, but the WTF moment is that NBC wont even let Carson Daly go either! They're keeping him there with no foreseeable job to do.
Now we VPAR have no qualms with Leno or his skills as a host, and we know its what he lives for, But Leno loves the Tonight Show and we expect he'll walk before he harms it, his friend Conan, or let himself be seen as an usurper once again, if even on the surface.
Good luck guys, and fuck NBC.
UPDATE: Conan O'Brien has since put out a statement saying the same thing. That the Tonight Show is too cemented as an institution to just shuffle around. Below is his full statement.
In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky. That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.
Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, 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.
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. 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.
Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way.
Lets hope Jay takes the hint and steps up.
Addendum: Alot of sensationalist "news" outlets have been reporting this story as Conan O'Brien is leaving NBC and lets be clear, that is not true. He made clear he won't do the show at 12:05am. Right now its still on at 11:35pm which is why he's still doing shows. Its up to NBC to decide what to do with Leno, and frankly Leno isn't dumb enough to think he'll have much of a career if he took the Tonight Show back IF Conan walks, after all this. But given the higher ratings this is giving Conan, you can bet NBC will drag their feet in a decision so as to reap the benefits. Popeater is reporting that Leno is furious with NBC for staying silent while HE gets painted as the bad guy in all this and HE'S thinking of walking. But though it seems logical, it's Popeater so who can really believe it? Though Mike Ryan there wrote a piece about Leno that we VPAR DO NOT agree with in its ultimate point, but the reality concerning how Leno deserves some sympathy rings very true. More to come were sure.