Late Night Wars: What Price Will NBC, Leno and Zucker Pay?

by Anne Thompson
January 16, 2010 2:53 AM
11 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
You don't have a mess like the Late Night Wars without fallout. Winners and losers are inevitable.

Winners: pugnacious Jimmy Kimmel; NBC Universal consigliere Ron Meyer, who helped to broker the settlement; and Conan O'Brien, who may have lost The Tonight Show, but walks away with his dignity intact, public support and $30 million.

Losers: Jay Leno, who wins a Pyrrhic victory as he takes back his old job, but may lose ratings and popularity in this messy slag-fest; and NBC, which lost hundreds of millions in the long run. As for NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker, who plans to attend the Golden Globes Sunday, many wonder how long new NBC Universal owner Comcast will hang onto him.

Kim Masters surveys the NBC damage.

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More: News, TV

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11 Comments

  • Lucy | January 23, 2010 4:34 AMReply

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lucy

  • Jerry | January 18, 2010 12:53 AMReply

    Yeah, yeah, Howard Stern made a point on how Leno wants everybody to like him and think he's a good guy etc etc, and yet how sneaky the guy can really be. Look it up.

    To tell you the truth this NBC train wreck is all fun for me to watch, but I don't care about Leno OR Conan. When it comes to Late Night, IF I stay up to watch a talk show, then it's Craig Ferguson.

    My point is in this Leno versus Conan crap, everyone wants to choose sides. I'm not choosing sides, I'm just calling it the way I see it because that's how it's coming across to me, and 90 per cent of American viewers, along with the media and celebrities alike, and Leno hasn't done ONE THING to dispel ANY OF IT.

    (And screw any "Herd mentality" comments anyone might want to throw in at that point.) That hasn't got anything to do with it. If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks likes a duck, then it must be a duck.

    On a separate note, Jay Leno IS NOT funny, his humor is cornball and has been for a VERRRRYYYY long time. If Leno is so Damn funny, his show wouldn't have tanked in it's time slot. Give me Ferguson over Leno any day of the week.

    Here's a memory refresher...

    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/6d1caacad1/jay-s-2004-announcement

  • Jerry | January 17, 2010 11:25 AMReply

    Willy, not ALL of us old guys are selfish, greedy weasels like Jay Leno. If a guy can do a job, no matter his age, then fine, I say let him do it.

    But you don't announce to the world you're retiring, let a younger guy take over, then change your mind and stab him in the back. The debacle lies at the feet of Zucker and Leno, both of whom should rightfully be out of a job.

    Leno's ratings tanked at 10pm. Was he upset? Hell no. He didn't care about his temp job. I wish people would quit focusing on Conan's ratings alone (Which are now up by the way) when Leno failed miserably in his time slot.

    The difference is Leno knew what his plans were from the get go. He knew going in if he didn't succeed that O'Brien would be pushed out and he'd get his old job back. Dollars to donuts THAT conversation took place between he and NBC before his 10pm show aired.

    What he didn't count on was Conan having a back bone and all this dirty "Behind the scenes" business being aired publicly the way it has. Now his image and NBC's is in the crapper, and he doesn't know how to fix it, so he's been lamely trying to play it off.

    It ain't working.

    Like I said, I won't EVER be tuning in to the Tonight Show while the creep is hosting it.

  • jl | January 17, 2010 9:40 AMReply

    An interesting post by Paul Reiser ... a chat w his kid

    "Yeah. And how about the fact that while all this craziness is going on, Jay just shows up to work every day and does his job. He doesn't complain, he doesn't get upset... He just does what he's supposed to do: he makes people laugh. That's not easy, you know."

    He thought about it.

    "Jay's a really good guy, huh?"

    "Yes he is. "

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-reiser/a-teachable-leno-moment_b_418197.html

  • Jerry | January 17, 2010 7:56 AMReply

    ....Oh, and one more point regarding Jay Leno..Rich Sommer of "MadMen" had this to say,..

    I think the team at Leno needs to get their heads out of their butts. Leno has had about 45 million opportunities not to be a dick in this whole thing. He's had 45 million chances not to be a jerk and he's passed each of them by. He's completely disregarded those opportunities. And he's taken every chance he can to just make the bad decisions. And I am really sad about that. I used to be a big Leno fan. It's really turned me off with this whole thing."

    THAT sums up the damage that's been done to Leno's reputation no matter what position you take.

  • Jerry | January 17, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    You're being far too gracious to Jay Leno, he's not blameless as you paint him to be.

    Leno IS being a selfish asshole, just as much as the NBC execs.

    I've never laid ALL of this debacle at Leno's feet, but he IS being as much a sleaze as the dogs he chooses to lay down with. If a vulture is profiting from the kill made by another animal, you can't say he isn't taking part in the bloody feast.

    I remember when NBC screwed over David Letterman, AND I also remember how Johnny Carson backed Letterman and advised him to walk.

    I call that a stand up guy with class, and Johnny Carson was definitely THAT GUY. Leno is a far cry from being able to fit the shoes of Johnny Carson.

    The best article I've read on this whole thing is written by Richard Laermer, and here's the link.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-laermer/the-pr-disaster-called-nb_b_426228.html

    Do yourself a favor and check it out.

  • Willy | January 17, 2010 4:29 AMReply

    He didn't announce he was retiring, Jerry. People in their 50s don't retire much. He agreed, after the very ugly late shift in the 1990s, to go along with network wishes without a fight. "I won't be where I'm not wanted," he told Rolling Stone last year.

    If Leno were really the selfish asshole people are making him out to be he never would have acquiesced. He would have stormed into Zucker's office and countered Conan's threat to jump ship with his own. That's what real assholes do. They go to another network looking for revenge.

    The truth is, the people who are giving Jay shit right now never liked him to begin with. He isn't hip. He's older. He's a bit of a Tracy Flick with his work ethic. He also appeals to the Rush Limbaugh part of the country as much as he does the Chris Matthews side. To some, that spells "pussy."

    If Conan showed any creative promise despite bad ratings (the way the low rated 30 Rock and The Office did in their infancy) the struggling network would have kept him on, with complete faith that he would build an audience. But if you've seen The Tonight Show, you know that Conan is just phoning it in with his freak and geek brand of comedy. He's the real pussy. (excuse me, Anne)

    So NBC attempted one last time to fix the latest mess. They wanted to keep Conan and Jay but at the price of a half hour for each other them: Jay's running time and Conan in the lineup. It's a crappier deal than these two talents were used to but, hey, times are tough.

    Conan was the one who said no. Conan waved his magic wand and turned NBC from bumbling idiots who can't run a network into being assholes who fired a nice young guy. And since uncool Jay benefits greatly, why not lump him in with the other assholes, right?

    Laying this all at the feet of Leno is one of the most biased misreads I've seen in the media, and specifically the internet, in a long time.

    Full disclosure: I don't watch Leno unless he's got a big guest and I outgrew Conan 10 years ago.

  • W Shaw | January 16, 2010 10:06 AMReply

    Willy wrote " I am having trouble sympathizing with Conan though"
    Is he kidding? Four years ago Jay Leno announced he was retiring.
    There was no talk the of a 10pm Jay Leno show Four years ago he was very clear- he was retiring and passing the crown the jewel the big show-The TONIGHT SHOW - to Conan. Only within the last year did the world hear about Jay getting his own 10.pm show. Why- because Mr Big Chin mega bucks decided he did not want to retire again in 2009 -he changed his mind-so to accomodate him he was given a 10.00pm show by NBC. He caused this mess. He should leave. Suppose there was another scenario. God forbid but Leno became ill. Conan would right fully get and keep the Tonight Show hosting position wouldn't he?I hope that this weekend NBC suits will reconsider and give Conan at least a chance- give him one year to host the Tonight Show starting at its regular time 11.35pm.
    And Jay Leno should stop being so greedy. After the Olympics if he does get back the Tonight Show -he won't get back the bulk of his fan base. Why? Many people are disgusted with him in the industry and outside the industry. Kimmel is right. You have 800 million dollars - take a rest like you had planned to do. Retire.
    Why can't people as they get older just gracefully step aside and let younger people have a chance?

  • Holly Utz | January 16, 2010 6:43 AMReply

    NBC executives and Leno are pushing O'Brien out, not the other way around. Moving Leno back to 11:35 would push O'Brien to 12:05 and Fallon to 1:05. Leno has said and done nothing to indicate that he cares about anyone other than himself, and last night, Kimmel was justified in telling him off. I, for one, will no longer watch any of this network's programming if this is the way it treats its employees - not just O'Brien, but also his writers, production staff, and family, who moved out to LA only to be handed walking papers almost as soon as they moved in. NBC is a managerial abortion and Leno, for lack of a less offensive definition, is an Indian giver. Neither of them deserve respect or viewers for their insensitivity and greed.

  • Jerry | January 16, 2010 5:05 AMReply

    I'll never watch the Tonight Show again while Leno is host. (I'm 58 by the way, much closer to the demographic audience the sleaze ball attracts attracts)

    What I really would like to know at this point if there's been phone calls between Comcast and Zucker, informing him he should be seeking employment elsewhere before they take over.

  • Willy | January 16, 2010 4:26 AMReply

    Kimmel has had three moments of genius in just the past week... the initial "pumpkin pie" skit, where he demonstrates exactly what the deal is... and how great it is to not be a part of it; his hour long Leno impression tour de force; and last night's Chris Rock worthy roast of the big chinned host on his own show. The man is on fire. And I wouldn't be surprised if he's hosting The Tonight Show in 12 years.

    I am having trouble sympathizing with Conan though. The NBC suits are incompetent for sure, but the guy brought all of this on himself, pushing out Leno with his sense of late night entitlement (is being Tonight Show host really important enough to rock such a big boat?) and showing zero sympathy for the workaholic host when NBC tried one last time to make everyone happy.

    O'Brien is getting a raw deal. But his choices played a part in it.

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