I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare the entire NBC/Conan/Leno fight a hoax engineered to save The Tonight Show and build a new fan-base that is loyal.
What Has Happened?
Deadline Hollywood has an excellent real-time writeup of what is happening with the fight yesterday through today and it was reading through the updated notes that it dawned on me… this feels very engineered. Let’s take a look:
- Conan O’Brien takes over The Tonight Show on June 1, 2009 at 11:35pm on NBC.
- The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien ratings take a dive after Leno leaves and continue to slide.
- Jay Leno / NBC semi-sabotage Conan’s helming of The Tonight Show by launching The Jay Leno Show on September 14, 2009 at 10:00pm on NBC.
- The Jay Leno Show posts disappointing ratings almost from Day 1, which continue through the new year — never finding it’s footing and gaining a following.
SUMMARY SO FAR… At this point neither Conan/The Tonight Show or Leno/The Jay Leno Show are doing well — both are failing in the ratings, both on NBC and the Winter Olympics are coming up which will fall right on top of The Jay Leno Show’s timeslot anyway. NBC needs to figure out what to do to save The Tonight Show and either can The Jay Leno Show or move it some where else.
Where is This Going…
- “Rumors” abound that NBC plans on pushing The Tonight Show and Conan back to 12:05 and putting The Jay Leno Show at the old 11:35pm Tonight Show time slot — we know Conan isn’t going to go for this and it will drum up Conan-sympathy about “Getting screwed” — it did for us and half of Facebook.
- Conan O’Brien begins publicly shaming both Leno and NBC during his monologues each night of The Tonight Show for these proposed moves.
- “Rumors” begin slipping that Zucker (NBC CEO/President) is enraged by Conan’s public insults and plans to replace Conan with Leno as the host and show Conan the door.
- NBC continues to leak “rumors” about giving The Tonight Show back to Leno is “a done deal” to sites like Deadline to up the intensity on community rage/support for Conan. They also leak news that Zucker and Conan are having a personal battle where Zucker wants to blacklist Conan for 3 1/2 years — adding fuel to the online fire/drama.
THURSDAY, 2 PM, 4TH UPDATE: Amid unconfirmed Internet reports that NBC’s Leno-Conan switcharoo for hosting The Tonight Show at 11:35 PM is now a done deal for Jay but not Conan…
- NBC, the same network claiming to want to push Conan off the air for 3 1/2 years and silence him forever AND supposedly the same network that has signed Jay Leno to re-host The Tonight Show (you know, the “done deal”) also release an announcement that in the last few weeks of this in-fighting, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien has seen it’s highest ratings ever AND is the highest rated late night show on TV at the moment:
…the network just sent out a news release noting that “NBC’s The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien has topped all broadcast and cable competition in the key late-night demographic of adults 18-49 for the week of January 4-8.
- Shortly after this announcement, more “rumors” start spreading that the deal with Jay Leno to take The Tonight Show back over is in-fact not a done deal and that there are now new rumors about Jay Leno getting a hefty breach-of-contract settlement ($60 million) and Conan keeping The Tonight Show — you know, because the ratings are through the roof now.
BREAKING NEWS! EXCLUSIVE! 9TH UPDATE, FRIDAY 7 AM: I can confirm that Team Conan reassembled in Los Angeles last night, and O’Brien’s reps arestill “figuring out how to settle” but at the same time still lobbying NBCU chief Jeff Zucker to keep Conan as host of The Tonight Show. Their negotiations continued with NBC. Unlike the network which wants a resolution by end of today, the agents-lawyers-managers are in no hurry to accept what NBC is offering to end this late night crisis and the resulting PR nightmare.
SUMMARY SO FAR… You have now tapped into an audience that never existed before (online) and drawn them into this drama of forming an opinion about Leno or Conan and The Tonight Show. We can tell from the barrage that occurred in support of Conan and against Leno online as well as offline over the last few days that Conan now has a solid and faithful following behind him and for The Tonight Show — remember, it’s ratings and The Jay Leno Show’s ratings were in the dog-house before this.
What Happens Next?
At this point NBC will let Conan keep The Tonight Show and Leno will walk away from his show with a huge severance as a “Thank You” for his participation in this non-sense to save the ratings.
NBC will release an announcement following the format “Due to overwhelming support for Conan…” and make it look like all the people online and offline that spoke up about Conan actually made a difference.
These millions of viewers will feel vindicated and proud about what they’ve done and now be a built in audience for The Tonight Show.
NBC will simply let The Jay Leno Show stay off the air when the Winter Olympics consume his time-slot, and he’ll take his money and go to the beach.
“PR nightmare” indeed NBC.
In a day an age where successful television franchises, especially ones that are 60-years-running, translate to billions of dollars — you have to accept that a little political engineering and social deception is not beyond network executives looking at the possibility that they may have to cancel one of the longest running shows in TV’s history and cancel another hosted by one of late-nights most recognized hosts — paying out roughly $100 million in contract-closure fees as well as the lost advertising.
How much did this little NBC/Leno/Conan drama actually cost NBC? A few million to engineer and execute? And how much did it first save them — and in the longer term make them?