Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Conan Should Win

First, let me say I'm no professional media critic. I just do what you do - watch TV, shout my two cents at it, confine my thoughts to 140 characters or less on Twitter, or write about it here.

That said, I have to say I'm very upset with NBC and the way it's handling its late night programming.

I have never loved Jay Leno. I found him entertaining on some nights, but often found his guests to be predictable and, well, boring. Conan, however, is quirky and not at all afraid to bring lesser-known guests on his show. When I first heard of NBC's decision to let Conan replace Jay, I thought the network was taking a chance on someone that might not appeal to everyone. I never thought putting Jay on in prime time was a good idea. I mean, that was three and a half hours of talk shows each night! Who has time for that?

But I gave it a shot. I watched as Jay's show tried to be different playing before the news than it did after the news. I saw Conan try to settle in to his new time schedule. Did I love them? Not really. I found Jay's show to be slow, mostly unfunny (with the exception of that 10@10 segment) and lacking in just about every area a talk show should not (same old guests, same old questions). Conan was himself. Was America ready for him an hour earlier? How could he make his "Tonight Show" different from Jay's - that guy who, unlike Carson (who retired to make way for Jay) was still on the air?

NBC never gave us a chance to decide who's better in that time slot. For some reason, it pushed Jay out, then seemed to have regrets by offering him that prime time gig. Then, when NBC stations across the country threatened a revolt, the network decided to add real programming to that coveted news lead-in time. Pushing Conan's "Tonight Show" past midnight is just silly. It's no longer "TONIGHT." It's morning. And it took Conan's own statement to prove just who wins this silly battle.

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over “The Tonight Show” in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004, I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. 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.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard, and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of “The Tonight Show.” But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet, a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the “Tonight Show,” I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.



I don't know how NBC can fix this, but I can tell you this: I am on Conan's side. He was wronged by the network. NBC has made chosen to stand by an old guy who doesn't bring in the demographics they so covet. I should know. I fit that age group. Conan and his team appeal to a different audience than Jay. I hardly doubt they'll sit around and watch that older guy and his run of the mill guests. I am tired of networks thinking if they put up just any old program, viewers will watch. I have happily skipped shows the networks have promoted heavily and I have not regretted it one bit. So, Conan, I know you're not reading this, but just know that I will watch you wherever you wind up, just so long as it's not after Jay.
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