Monday, January 11, 2010

The Late Night Mess At NBC Continues

It looks like something is happening with NBC. The network is finally admitting that their grand experiment to save money by programming “The Jay Leno Show” weeknights at 10 is a complete bust. NBC could no longer sit by and watch this show drag their affiliates late night news ratings be dragged deeper into the ratings cellar. Many NBC affiliates across the nation had the top rated news programs before this program premiered last fall only to see them fall into third and fourth place in their markets.

News of the cancellation was officially announced Sunday afternoon with Leno’s final 10pm show to be aired on February 12th. What happens next remains a mystery. Supposedly, Leno will be going back to his 11:35pm time slot to do a half-hour show, but nobody is really sure what that half-hour is going to consist of. Leno will probably do a monologue – but what does he do after that? A half-hour of late-night network television doesn’t give you a whole lot of time – maybe sixteen minutes tops after commercials – to “put on a show”.

Moving back to 11:35 could be a risky move. Jay went from being the king of late-night television hosting top-rated “Tonight Show” for seventeen years to hosting a nightly prime-time train wreck of show at 10pm that Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post likens to being the biggest marketing blunder since the introduction of the New Coke. If people didn’t follow Jay when he made the move to prime time – what makes NBC think that they’re going to follow him when he returns to late-night. And what if he bombs in late-night – what does NBC offer him then – the nightly news minute or does he bump Kathy Lee and Hoda off of the fourth hour of “The Today Show”?

There are still a couple of other pieces of the NBC late night mess that have yet to be settled. NBC still wants Conan O’Brien to be the host of “The Tonight Show”, but they want to move the show a half-hour to 12:05, but Conan’s contract stipulates that his show begins at 11:35pm and he could hold them to that contract, so what do they do with Leno who they already promised the half-hour show to? They could release Conan from his contract – but that’s going to cost NBC millions and millions of dollars. Fox has made some noise that they would love for Conan to join them and do a talk show there, but they know he’s still under contract to NBC. Should NBC release him from his contract – it’s a good bet that Fox would have him do a show at 11pm – that would directly complete against all of the local late night newscasts. NBC has already done enough harm to their affiliates late night news ratings with Leno they can’t risk freeing Conan to do damage to them on a rival network.

How would I like to see this all played out? Personally, I would love to see Conan hold NBC to their contract – it could end up blowing up in his face and he might have to set out the next five years and collect millions of dollars from NBC for doing nothing – but imagine what would happen if he did. If NBC was to take “The Tonight Show” away from him and give it back to Leno – you can see the negative press already. To be honest with you – it’s time for Jay to take a powder and do something he’s really good at – stand-up comedy – and leave late-night television with a little dignity – something that his predecessor Johnny Carson did.

Johnny went out with class. You remember Johnny Carson, don’t you Jay? If my memory serves me right -- he was the one you pushed out.

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