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NBC, Conan, Jay and Late Night Television

I, like many, have been paying very close attention to what is happening at NBC. NBC seems to have abandoned the premise that they are in the broadcast business for some time now with the notable exceptions of their nightly news, the NFL, the Olympics and up until last year their late night programming.

Clearly some time back (six years ago) NBC brass made a deal which they regret making, and that was that after a certain period of time Jay Leno would retire and Conan O’Brien would assume the role of host of “The Tonight Show”. At the time I’m sure all parties agreed that this deal made sense as it would allow NBC the opportunity to manage the process, Jay the opportunity to gracefully retire and Conan the opportunity to sit at the throne. That was then.

At some point in time things changed, at least internally within NBC and it became clear that having Jay Leno continue to be a part of their lineup was more important than having Conan O’Brien. And so while everyone is pretending that this has been a challenging time for all parties involved, my take on this is that NBC deserves an Emmy for best acting in a drama.

NBC has consistently set up benchmarks that were unlikely to be attained, and in doing so they’ve allowed Jay Leno to remain a hit (technically his ratings have not gone down, just those of the 10:00 time period), and they’ve drastically damaged the value of Conan O’Brien for whenever he does go to a competitor. Also by getting ahead of this process NBC is able to protect itself during the upfronts which get underway in May, potentially allowing NBC to bill advertisers at Jay’s old late night rates rather than what would be Conan’s abysmal new rates that were sure to be jammed down NBC’s throat.

As for Conan, yes, he is damaged. While I know everyone is claiming he’s only had 7 months in the job, let’s also not forget that he had years and years in his previous gig with NBC and he also had a few months before Jay moved into the 10:00 slot – bottom line is NBC hedged their bet in the space and while Conan’s window was very short, the limited results were also not very encouraging. While NBC will go with Jay for a while, I also think that they’ve made a calculation that Conan is not their guy for the long term, and once that decision was made it really was a matter of bringing the wrecking ball down on him.

Also as for Conan, while we don’t know how this will ultimately shake out, kudos to him for making it all as difficult as possible for NBC so that when he does resurface he’ll have the opportunity to open strong rather than weak, although my suspicion is that at this point Conan will have a massive challenge ahead of himself.

As for Jay, yes, he’ll likely be back in a few months beating the pants off of Letterman.

As for HBO, I suspect they’re already working on the movie.

Posted on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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