Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

television

-- television -- stay klassy, nbc

And now the other shoe has dropped. Mind, it had to get kicked around real hard by that first shoe for a while, but here it is.

Conan O’Brien Says He Won’t Host ‘Tonight Show’ Following Leno - Media Decoder Blog - NYTimes.com

Conan O’Brien released a statement Tuesday saying that he no longer wants to host NBC’s “Tonight Show” and intends to seek a way to end his contract with the network.

The host, who saw his brief run at host of “Tonight” cut short when NBC decided to restore his predecessor Jay Leno to the 11:35 p.m. time period occupied by “Tonight” since the dawn of television, has been growing increasingly upset in recent days about how he believes he was treated by NBC’s management....

"People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.

Yours,

Conan"

So presumably, when NBC moves Jay Leno back to the 10:30 Central time slot, he will actually get to be hosting the Tonight show again. I can't imagine that NBC will want the name to go away after all these many years, and it'll be available.

Except ...

Fox Woos O’Brien, but Pact Is a Hurdle (nytimes.com)

By BILL CARTER

PASADENA, Calif. — The dance between the Fox network and NBC’s disaffected late-night host, Conan O’Brien, got livelier Monday when Kevin Reilly, the president of Fox Entertainment, spelled out in some detail how interested Fox would be in starting a late-night show starring Mr. O’Brien — provided he found a way to extricate himself from his NBC contract. That could prove to be a difficult extraction, at least as some senior NBC executives see it. Despite the fact that Mr. O’Brien is being ejected from the 11:35 p.m. time period he was given in June and pushed to after midnight to make room for Jay Leno, NBC executives are expressing confidence that the network has not breached Mr. O’Brien’s contract.

The reason? The contract, NBC is arguing, guaranteed Mr. O’Brien would be installed as host of “The Tonight Show” — and unlike many other deals for late-night stars, Mr. O’Brien’s contract contains no specific language about the time period the show would occupy, NBC executives said. NBC has said Mr. O’Brien’s relocated show would be called “The Tonight Show.” The contractual terms could affect Fox’s pursuit of Mr. O’Brien in several ways. Mr. Reilly acknowledged that even if Mr. O’Brien found a home at Fox, NBC could insist that it had the right to keep Mr. O’Brien from starting a show for an extended period of time — as long as a year or more.

Mr. O’Brien’s side has a different interpretation of whether NBC’s actions constitute a breach; but both sides predicted that the issue would not end up in a legal battle. “Nobody has the stomach for that,” said a senior NBC executive, who asked not to be identified because of the unsettled contractual situation....

The question is just how much NBC wants to screw over Conan at this point. Considering the rather epochal reaming they've been giving him the past week or so, the idea that they don't "have the stomach" for a long legal battle seems kind of improbable. They may decide to shelve the Tonight show name for a couple of years -- ending something like a continuous 50-odd year run -- purely to keep from having to make a massive payout. After all, part of this whole mess was about NBC wanting to save money at the corporate level, even though they were told and told and TOLD that the Leno show would be ruinous for their affiliates.

That Conan may not have the stomach for a long legal battle I can imagine -- his public persona, at least, is the sort of person who really woudln't like that. And, hey, he's been getting paid a few million a year for a while now. Even with the downturn in the stock market, he surely has enough stored by to decide, What the heck, I'm going to take a couple years off, let my contract expire, maybe go back and do a lot more standup to sharpen those skills again, and then come back to late night with Fox or whoever. And that said, as the article notes, the Fox affiliates are for the most part not at all happy about Fox wanting a late night show and having to give up the lucrative (and unshared) advertising spots that come with the syndicated shows in that timeslot. That's apart from the rather hefty expenses to the network itself that come with starting the show in the first place. Given that their affiliates are going through "a challenging business cycle", it might also suit Fox to back off for a couple of years until things settle down a bit.

The only issue then would be whether or not people were still interested in watching Conan at all -- a very real issue, given how easy people seem to bounce from show to show these days.

Posted by iain at 04:07 PM in category television