Friday, January 08, 2010

Is It The End "At 10" For Leno?

(Photo courtesy of NBC)

If I remember correctly, there was a book published back in the 70’s with the title “If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance…Baffle Them With Bullshit” and on a cold January day in 2010 the people who program NBC are bringing that title to life right before our very eyes.

Some five or so years ago, NBC decided that Conan O’ Brien would be the next host of the “Tonight Show”, but he had to wait until 2009 to get the show. When NBC signed Conan for the gig, Leno was still behind the Tonight Show desk consistently beating David Letterman on CBS – which should have been a clue right then and there that NBC programming executives didn’t know what they were doing. Call me wacky, but it’s hard to find a good reason why you would go and replace a proven commodity in the 11:30 time slot (Leno) with someone whose show features such characters as a masturbating bear and an insult spewing dog (Conan). It didn’t make much sense then and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now.

Leno – being the good company man that he is – went along with the move. As 2009 approached – NBC watched as Leno still got big ratings on the Tonight Show and they knew that they had to do something to keep him under the NBC umbrella after Conan took over the show or risk losing him to the competition.

What was NBC’s solution to keeping Leno? Put his show on five nights a week at 10pm. This is where the "if you can't dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit" theory really came into play: NBC admitted before Leno's first 10pm show ever aired that it didn't need to big ratings, because the show would be cheaper to produce than a filmed drama. NBC saw it as a win-win….they kept Leno and they had five nights a week of fresh programming at a fraction of the cost. What they didn’t realize was how big this little experiment was going to bomb. Not did Jay Leno's 10pm show get being beaten in the ratings by ABC, CBS and Fox – one-hour dramas on USA, TNT and FX were attracting bigger audiences than Jay. And, if you talked to an NBC programming executive about the 10pm situation – they would deny that there’s a problem.

Now, let’s fast forward to January 7, 2010. Rumors and gossip are coming out of Burbank, California about the future of Jay Leno at 10pm at lighting speed. It all begins with news that NBC has seen the errors of their way and will be canceling the show. The cable news networks and the internet are abuzz with the news – only to have NBC come out and deny that they show is being cancelled and saying, "Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today.” If you call bombing at 10pm -- Leno is really compelling.

Before night falls though – a new rumor comes out of Burbank. TMZ is reporting that on February 1, Leno’s 10pm show will go on hiatus and return to the 11:30 time slot after the Olympics. (And here’s the big crunch) Supposedly, Conan’s show will follow Jay and Jimmy Fallon’s show will still follow Conan’s -- but will all of the shows still be an hour in length? Dunno. Rumor has it that Leno will be doing a half-hour show and Conan and Fallon will be doing an hour – which doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, does it? If NBC says they’re giving the Tonight Show back to Jay and they’re only giving him a half hour are they really giving it back to him? I wouldn’t think so. Plus, I think if you cut the Tonight Show down to a half-hour you’re diluting what has been one of television’s most prized institutions -- which is another indication that NBC programmers must be smoking crack somewhere in the halls of beautiful downtown Burbank..

When it comes right down to it....three little words sum up all of the craziness happening right now with Leno, Conan and NBC -- and those three words: "It's only TV".

No comments: