Sunday, January 10, 2010

NBC's Late Night Mess

I knew Jay Leno wasn't doing well in the ratings. That wasn't news. But then late last week came the revelation that the ratings had hurt NBC affiliates as the lead in to the 10pm news, and that NBC was taking action.
Now it's official--As of mid-February, "The Jay Leno Show" is toast. But wait, what's that? NBC still wants Jay on the air?
That's right. And what's more, although it's not set in stone quite yet, it looks like they'll be giving Jay 30 minutes Monday through Friday at 10:35pm, followed by Conan at 11:05pm, then Jimmy Fallon an hour later. Essentially, he's getting back "The Tonight Show" timeslot (at least the first half of it), and Conan and Jimmy Fallon are both getting the shaft.
What remains to be seen is whether or not the plan will work. What we do know is that NBC execs liked Leno in his old time slot. He consistently beat Letterman in the ratings, and it was working well. Conan did not fare as well against Letterman, who will probably extend his run on CBS beyond 2010.

It's conceivable that NBC could buy out the remainder of Conan's contract, then reinstall Leno at the helm of "Tonight." If that were to happen, Conan, now contract free, could hop to another network (FOX has already made overtures).

Personally, I just can't see Leno in a half hour program. Not to mention Conan *immediately* following Leno again--and poor Jimmy Fallon! NBC is said they're still working with all parties to keep them at the Peacock network, and have already ordered a bunch of new pilots to fill that hourlong spot that Leno will vacate in February.

By the way, if you're interested in the kind of drama this has created, I highly recommend the book "The Late Shift" by New York Times television writer Bill Carter. It chronicled exactly what happened when Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show" in 1992, and how Jay Leno and David Letterman battled it out to see who would take the spot. An excellent read. Carter, by the way, continues to write for the "Times," and is now writing about this latest Leno situation.
So what will happen next for Leno, Conan, and Fallon?
Stay tuned.

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