COCO VS. LENO? OH, NO!
Clash Of The (Talk) Titans!
By Ed Gauthier
Host Of The Mr.
Ed Weirdo Show
This isn't quite the kind of thing we usually cover here, but it still seems worth mentioning that NBC has been up to some very screwy things with their late night schedule recently.
In fact, so screwy that they just might be paying off one of their employees almost 50 million bucks to stay quiet about it. What's to stay quiet about? Nobody knows for sure. See? I told you it was screwy!
It all started when Conan O'Brien (AKA "Coco") took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno (AKA "Leno") seven months ago, and Leno later moved to a new prime-time slot with The Jay Leno Show.
Leno's show proved to be a colossal flop. So then NBC proposed to move The Leno Show back to 11:35, displacing The Tonight Show, and moving O'Brien back to 12:05 am. NBC mysteriously opted to pull the plug on both situations, even though they knew full well that it takes at least a year to attract an audience to a new show or an old show switching time slots.
But O'Brien is apparently not willing to play yo-yo. In a statement he released Tuesday, Conan totally rejected NBC's latest move:
"People of earth.....
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..... I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is [the Tonight Show's] destruction....
Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.
So O'Brien clearly cannot support the network's decision, and will have no part of it (literally). The only option remaining for NBC is to buyout O'Brien's contract and assorted related legal paperwork to the tune of about $45 million. But that would still leave two main questions unanswered regarding follow-up shows:
1) If the FOX network successfully courts O'Brien to stage a talk show opposite Leno, who will host a possible follow-up FOX version of his old Late Night one?
2) If it's to be business as usual again for Leno on The Tonight Show, who will host the follow-up to that - or will it just be Jimmy Fallon after he's dropped down an hour?
Last Monday, president of Fox Entertainment Kevin Reilly strongly endorsed O’Brien, saying, “He would be a very compatible fit for our brand. He is one of the few guys on the planet that has demonstrated he can do one of these shows every night.”
Meanwhile, who's been the biggest winner in all this scenario so far? David Letterman, of course - his ratings have skyrocketed since the whole confusing mess began! Letterman, you might recall, was similarly bumped out of The Tonight Show spot 17 years ago, also by Leno.
So going back to what there was to be quiet about, one might well wonder what strange hold Leno has on NBC, and what did O'Brien find out about it that has NBC so nervous? Only time - and a whole lotta future payoffs - will tell.
UPDATE: You knew there'd be one! On April 12, 2010, O'Brien began a national comedy tour, starting off in Oregon. That same day, he also announced that he'd just signed to do a new late night TV show - not for FOX, but for TBS - starting this November!
Oh, ya - and this week Leno's bandleader Kevin Eubanks quit him flat. All in all, not a great year for Leno, and O'Brien pulled out of his nosedive at the last minute. Of course we're talking about two multi-millionaires here, who seem to make even more money no matter which way they turn, so let's not get too dramatic about this jazz!