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Lunch break

Conan O'Brien takes on NBC and Leno:


By Ezra Klein  |  January 14, 2010; 12:29 PM ET
 
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Comments

I frankly doing understand all the vitriol against Jay Leno. The guy has been a good soldier for NBC, consistently doing what they ask of him.

First, he won the job to replace Carson over Letterman and people hate him for that. Huh?

Second, he beats Letterman _consistently_ in ratings because he understands that the Tonight Show audience isn't as edgy as Letterman.

Third, NBC doesn't want to lose Letterman protege O'Brien so they agree to boot out Leno in '09 so Conan can take over The Tonight Show.

Four, NBC, looking for cost certainty decides to throw Leno into a 10 o'clock slot and when that ultimately fails, they want to move Leno to 1135 and O'Brien to 1205.

Why all the pitchforks against Leno? He's come out against this move, what should he have done in any of this? Some say he should quit over this obviously bad move against Conan but why should Leno do anything?

And I'm saying this as someone who casually enjoys Conan O'Brien and thinks that he should be given time to prove his worth at the 1135 time slot but it seems like Jay Leno has always been the guy who wronged everyone else and I just don't understand it.

Posted by: GregHao | January 14, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

The thing about Leno is, he agreed to this passing of the torch years ago, and then when the time came, he no longer wanted to go. I don't know that he's entirely at fault for that since 5 years is a long time to contemplate your retirement, but the way he and NBC settled on a deal has had a lot of negative consequences for the network, as has become all too apparent.

Posted by: Chris_O | January 14, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

This whole NBC situation is good for comedy writers.

Posted by: JPRS | January 14, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

At one point, I thought both Leno and Conan were being wronged here and blamed it on NBC execs. I understood why the affiliate pressure necessitated action, but I blame the execs for their poor execution and lack of foresight. Have said that, I've turned on Leno. It appears, at least, that he has no problem taking a half-hour block at 11:35 pm - if he did have a problem with it, then Conan would be keeping that slot. Basically, then, Leno doesn't seem to mind that he will be turning The Tonight Show into, as Letterman called it, "The Tomorrow Show" at 12:05pm.

Who knows, though, maybe we'll all be winners in the end. If Jeff Zucker relents and Conan gets a show soon on Fox, then you have one hell of a late night competition on the four major networks.

Having said all of that, I love how David Letterman has handled the whole situation. Hilarious.

Posted by: gocowboys | January 14, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

@Chris - Did not know that, so yes, I can definitely see where Leno would come under fire; I wonder though, how much of the 10 o'clock show was Leno pushing NBC v. NBC pulling Leno, not that it really matters as the move basically meant destroying The Tonight Show (sorta kinda).

@gocowboys - The programming execs certainly are to be blamed here but insofar as Leno, hasn't he also lambasted the move? Just as Conan hasn't come out and said he'll quit, why should Leno? They're both trying to protect their contracts and millions of dollars (tens of millions for Conan, I can't imagine Leno's being much less) in severance when all of this blows up in NBC's face. And I guess that's my ultimate bottom line here, if NBC has wronged Conan so much, why not quit? Because Conan has a big payoff coming. If that's the case, then why should Leno be the altruistic party here and basically give up his leverage?

Posted by: GregHao | January 14, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

GregHao,

I fully understand that money, greed, etc. is in play here. However, what I am saying is that, unlike Conan, Leno is putting himself ahead of The Tonight Show brand. I think Conan is doing the right thing - he knows the show is bigger than himself, and won't let NBC execs get their way. In contrast, Leno seems to have no problem going back to 11:35, especially when it is likely that he will get The Tonight Show back. I suppose the problem with what you have said is that Conan is effectively stating he'll quit (I take it you saw his public letter). By saying he won't move to 12:05, for the sake of The Tonight Show, Conan has sacrificed a lot of money, since he is basically quitting. Apparently, his contract never stipulated when The Tonight Show must start.

Posted by: gocowboys | January 14, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Greg, my understanding is that NBC was rather desperate to keep Leno from jumping to another network, and Leno rejected several of their offers, including a half hour show, before he finally took their last ditch offer of a daily hour-long primetime show. Again, I don't know how much to blame this on Leno, but I certainly feel that Conan is far and away the biggest victim.

Posted by: Chris_O | January 14, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse


"I frankly doing understand all the vitriol against Jay Leno"

I think most of it stems from him being staggeringly unfunny...

Posted by: ThomasEN | January 14, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Why not just air both shows simultaneously at 11:35 on a split screen, with Conan getting the SAP audio stream? Then at 12:35 they can air them both again with Conan on standard audio and Leno on SAP (and perhaps also switching sides of the screen). Win-win.

Posted by: you-dont | January 14, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, frankly Leno gets a lot of vitriol because many people just don't, and have never, liked him. I don't personally have a problem with him or his act, but if I have to be mad at someone, it's going to be Leno. He had his time and he did well with it. Conan labored away in the shadows for 15 years on the understanding that he was being groomed. Now it's his turn and they're almost immediately trying to push him out. That sucks. Jay should do standup with a couple hour-long comedy specials each year. Maybe a 4th of July special and a holiday special.

Posted by: MosBen | January 14, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

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