Between last night and this morning I’ve been absorbed in all that is this NBC/Jay Leno/Conan/affiliates debacle…just to recap: a couple of years ago NBC announced that they were going to eventually make Conan O’Brien the new host of The Tonight Show and in response to that, they decided instead of losing Jay Leno to a competitor, they were going to give him a show too. The powers that be at the Peacock network decided it would save them some money to get rid of all their 10 PM weeknight programming and have Jay’s show during that time-slot. They would keep him and his viewers, while getting everyone used to Conan as the new face of The Tonight Show and simultaneously attract younger viewers. Everybody wins, right?
During the last few months since the transition officially took place, local NBC affiliates have seen dramatic drops in viewership (according to the LA Times, as much as 30% in some markets), due to Leno’s low ratings, and they have been freaking out, understandably.
NBC knows that’s serious, or they are using it as an excuse to undo their damage, and so now the back-peddling begins…according to various reports, one of the options NBC is considering is to give Leno back his 11:35 PM slot, as The Jay Leno Show and Conan, if he chooses to stay with the network, will be at 12:05 AM with The Tonight Show, and then Jimmy Fallon at 1:05 AM. It’s anyone’s guess what the heck will happen. We should know shortly as the Television Critics Tour in LA begins next week and there is an NBC affiliates board meeting later this month.
I personally thought this was a reckless and ridiculous move to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, risks are good, but focus groups/trial periods are better. I ask, how much research/thought was put into this? From fans, to the creative community that produces the programming, to affiliates, everyone was affected by this, and the only ones that seemed to have gained were Leno and O’Brien with lucrative contracts. It appears to me that NBC was so wrapped up in saving their talent that they didn’t think about the long-run or the impact of changing the broadcast landscape with replacing the coveted 10 PM time-slot with the same show (didn’t anyone learn from ABC’s mistake with multiple night airings of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and with a personality that was already kind of being phased out to begin with, with the network initiating the passing of the torch.
How ever it shakes out, NBC has some rebuilding to do, not only their image/PR (as they look like they don’t know what the heck they are doing), but also somewhat of their programming brand. It’s been a few months now, and many viewers have moved on to other networks/shows to satisfy their 10 PM primetime cravings. Based on reports, NBC’s window to re-organize their schedule is by the conclusion of their 2010 Winter Olympics coverage—February 28—which doesn’t give them a whole lot of time to produce anything new. If they want more bang for the buck, they should attempt to make a programming splash; simply returning with episodes of old shows that never aired might make some fans happy, but doesn’t really make up for their poor decision making in the first place.
I’ll keep tabs on this story and return with updates as they come in…