It has been known for quite some time now that Jay Leno would be leaving his post on The Tonight Show in 2009. This was going to allow Conan O’Brien to move up from the 11:30 EST spot to the far more lucrative 10:30 EST spot, kind of like being called up to the major leagues in baseball, this was a sign that Mr. O’Brien had made it.
Now, image if after all this shifting and maneuvering you come to find out that the major leagues are actually just another farm team as the real “show” will now be in prime time. While Mr. O’Brien has not yet said anything, that is what I imagine ran through his head yesterday when it was leaked that Leno would be getting a new show at 10 PM EST when he leaves The Tonight Show.
Essentially NBC has completely changed the rules of the late night talk show game, and it will either end up badly hurting the shows that remain in those late slots, or Leno’s show will crash and burn like nothing you have ever seen before. The people who enjoy Leno will no longer have to wait until after the 11 PM EST news to see him, they will be able to watch him at 10, then their news, and be in bed before Conan even comes on… just as things are now with the current set up.
When Johnny Carson prepared to leave the show in 1992, he had appointed David Letterman to be his successor. Depending on who tells the story, Leno somehow ended up usurping Dave as the annoited one, much to Carson’s displeasure, and got the show. This caused Letterman to leave NBC for CBS, where he ended up finally getting his desired 11:30 slot. (and unknown until Carson’s death in 2005, where Carson secretly sent Dave monologue jokes. If that wasn’t a flip off to Leno, I don’t know what was)
With the 12:30 slot, Letterman’s old slot, vacant, O’Brien was hired to take over the show with the promise that he would someday inherit The Tonight Show. Well, as Leno’s latest contract expired, it was decided it was time for that to happen, but it seems Mr. Leno wasn’t quite as ready for it. This is when rumors started circulate that Leno may jump ship for a new show on ABC, much to Jimmy Kimmel’s displeasure, and NBC started frantically trying to come up with a way to keep Leno at NBC while still giving O’Brien his promised show.
Rumors circulated that Leno would host the American version of the popular British car show Top Gear, but he opted against it. Rumors went quiet for a while as to what NBC would do, but then news came out yesterday that NBC was going to cut down on scripted dramas due to budget concerns. Some specualted they would go to 2 hours of prime time a night, or even cut a whole night, but then this rumor broke, and this appears to be the true solution.
Five nights a week Leno will be on at 10 PM EST. This will keep NBC filling 3 hours or prime time a night, will keep them on every night and will keep Leno from going to another network. Leno’s show will cost less to produce than even reality shows, and far less than scripted dramas which run, at minimum, $1 – $2 million per episode. This is a win-win deal for NBC, but I fear it is everyone else who loses.
NBC will have three hours of talk shows a night, which will probably lead to talk show fatigue amongst viewers. The A-list guests who went on The Tonight Show will probably opt for the primetime show, leaving O’Brien back with his b & c-list celebrities, and who knows what Jimmy Fallon will come up with when he takes over O’Brien’s old show.
Let me make no bones about this… I despise Leno. I think he is a talentless hack who rips off his material from everyone under the sun. His comedic bits are horribly outdated and he has the interviewing skills of a chimp. In short, I don’t watch him at 11:30, I’m such as heck not watching him at 10. My only dog in this fight is that he was easier to avoid at 11:30, now I may run into him.
I also think O’Brien has gotten the very raw end of this deal. When all of the attention should be on him and his success at taking over the lognest running show in late night… he is now back to being the second fiddle. True, NBC kept their promise to him, but when you devalue the promise in the 11th hour, it still sucks. I have not been a big viewer of late night talk shows in some years, but I may start back up just to give Conan support.
As I said up front, Leno is either going to crash and burn like no one has ever seen before, or he is going to take down the whole late night circuit just from the sheer fatigue of this many talk shows. This whole thing stinks from top to bottom, and all of the blame is squarely on the shoulders of Jeff Zucker, head of NBC. He has green lighted horrible show after horrible show, and now he is desperate for anything that will save his job, and damn the consequences.
I could be wrong, it’s been known to happen, and this whole scheme may just work out fine and dandy for all the parties involved… but I doubt it. NBC is in a shambles, and they need a Hail Mary move, there is no doubt about that, but this just isn’t it. Honestly, can anyone point out one single person in this world that has ever said, “Gee, I’d watch late night talk shows if they would just put them in primetime!”
My guess to the answer to that questions is a big old, “no”.