Who really is the bad guy here?
On one side, we have long-time night-time fixture, Jay Leno, who’s chin has hosted The Tonight Show and has kept it even-keel enough to hold on to those older viewers who enjoyed Johnny Carson for so many years. His implementation as host in ’92 was marred with controversy when he and David Letterman battled over who deserved it more. This tale is retold brilliantly in the movie The Night Shift.
On the other, we have Conan O’Brien’s red pompadour, a young (when compared to Leno) host who’s helmed Letterman’s old show (Late Night) since ’93 and took over the Tonight Show this past June. He’s developed a HUGE cult following (the way Letterman did), embraced the online generation, and is undoubtedly the future of late night TV. Plus anyone over 40 really doesn’t get him…which is sad.
In between these two: NBC…mucking up the Tonight Show for the Second Time!
For those lost on what I’m talking about and not followed the brou-ha-ha that’s made the Tonight Show good again over the past couple weeks, allow me to break down for you the events that culminated to the duel of Coco vs The Chin.
- 1993: Conan O’Brien takes over Late Night from the departing David Letterman beating out NBC’s original top choice, Dana Carvey (true). Conan’s show starts slow but within a year, it’s chugging along and becomes one of the best things on late night TV with characters like Pimp-Bot, The Masturbating Bear, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
- 2004: Conan’s contract nears expiration with NBC. He decides to resign with NBC only IF they agree to a clause stating that Conan will take over as host to the Tonight Show within five years. NBC agrees…they don’t want to lost their prized late night prospect. And if he doesn’t, Conan lands a cool estimated $40-mil for them not living up to their half of the bargain. Leno has Conan as a guest to congratulate him.
- 2008: Grumblings start to surface that Leno is upset with being “forced into retirement”. NBC appeases Leno by offering him a 10pm show five days a week right before the local nightly news. Leno’s chin is appeased.
- May-June 2009: Leno makes his final Tonight Show appearance at the end of May to record ratings. Conan takes over at the beginning of June. Older people everywhere shrug and don’t care about what happens in the Year 3000 because they won’t be around. Ratings begin to plummet.
- September 2009: The Jay Leno Show premieres to the glee of those fans who missed the old show. He pulls out his old bag of tricks (Jaywalking) and people eat it up (sprinkled with bran)…at first. But by the end of the year, the Jay Leno Show’s ratings have dropped significantly and NBC’s affiliates begin complaining that the show kinda sucks.
- Jan 7, 2010: NBC announces that The Jay Leno Show will go on hiatus February 1st until after the Olympics then move his show to 11:30 bumping Conan’s Tonight Show back to Midnight due to poor ratings.
- Jan 8, 2010: NBC gives an unconfirmed ultimatum to Coco: listen to Papa, or you’re on the street.
- Jan 9 – Jan 12: Late night explodes with finger pointing and hilarious mud-flinging. Letterman provides helpful first-hand advice to Conan, Jimmy Kimmel does an entire show as “Jay ‘The Chin’ Leno” with Chevy Chase appearing as “Conan” (and even appears on Leno’s show calling him out).
- Jan 12: Conan releases his “People of Earth” statement saying that he won’t budge his time slot. “The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show.” And he doesn’t want it to be a part of it’s demise.
- Jan Ongoing: Support for Conan is amazing with a movement called “I’m with Coco” spawned from the internet. Conan’s ratings on the Tonight Show have consistently increased.
That’s where we stand. At this point, the public prefers Conan but Leno is NBC’s Golden Boy. As of this moment, Conan is reportedly going to receive $40-mil for NBC’s breach of contract…but the actual details are yet to be determined.
Rumours abound that all of O’Brien’s characters including Pimpbot, The Masturbating Bear, and Horney Manatee will have to remain at NBC…mainly due to them signing a contract that they get to take over the Tonight Show if Conan and Jay don’t want it.
I suspect that by the end we’ll have Leno back on the Tonight Show. And Conan will show up again somewhere in the late night landscape.
So who is the bad guy in all of this?
It’s not Conan. He’s a victim if anything.
It’s not Jay. Though he’s a spin-master, he’s just become a scapegoat.
It’s not even NBC despite them bungling this up worse than the prosecuting team against OJ Simpson.
It’s the antiquated Neilsen Ratings system. They still rely on actual TV viewers and completely disregard that most people (especially the younger generations) prefer watching their favourite shows on their own time. Hence, the DVR, or Tivo, or online, or on their ipods during a long bus commute to work. And NBC believes in these ratings because their sponsors believe in these ratings.
One thing that this has shown is that Conan’s fan base is huge and rabid (the nice rabid). And no matter HOW this ends, Conan will end up with a show.
So, smarten up Neilsen! If you only rated the way people watch in the 21st Century instead of the mid-20th Century, this fiasco wouldn’t have occurred.
NBC would’ve seen that Coco has as large of a viewership as Leno (maybe bigger). The sponsors would’ve allowed Conan to go on. The affiliates would be happy with where Leno was and none of this would’ve occurred.
NBC would still have a happy Leno, happy Conan, happy affiliates, happy sponsors, and a happy Max Weinberg because he wouldn’t have to go home and tell his wife that the gravy train could be over.
UPDATE – Jan 21, 2010
NBC reaches deal to release Conan O’Brien – reportThu Jan 21, 2010 8:27am EST