Thursday, January 7, 2010

NBC Fumbling Toward Oblivion: Leno and Conan Getting Re-Organized

When the news hit the internet in a tidal wave of TMZ reports and Twitters today, what was an ordinary day in comedy TV land became a mind boggling roller coaster ride of rumors and tales of breath taking network television stupidity. Imagine the gall of taking the career of Conan O'Brien, prepping him for the prime promotion of Tonight Show host for five years, have he and his staff uproot their families and lives from New York to Los Angeles, only to find the new gig to be an experiment that just doesn't work. Then, throw in Jay Leno, who would kindly take back his old job, stand in the midst of this sinking ship, sail through rumors of cancelation, clinging on with various scenarios of 11:35pm start time here, while Conan starts up at 12:05pm there. Meanwhile, the very hilarious Jimmy Fallon, whose show is becoming a blast for the young and farty like me, sort of bangs lightly against the hull of the Titanic known as NBC. Needless to say, despite the bumps, he may be the safest of all.

"I hear Fox is beautiful this time of year."

As a comedy fan and devotee to late night comedy talk shows (a devotion that does not include Mr. Leno's fare past and present), the confusion has made me woozy with confusion. I'm team Conan all the way. The surrealism of him being in Los Angeles has waned, and I've accepted him in the sunny studios of Universal. It's been disappointing to see him temper his act a bit to suit the earlier audiences, and it pains me to find that a portion of America who likes the safe, mediocre comedy of Leno at 11:30pm won't cotton to O'Brien. NBC's patchwork of placating Leno and preventing him from moving on to a competing network, resulted in the 10pm nightly timeslot that killed five hours of originally scripted shows and murdered local affiliates lead in. It diminished their ratings and revenue in the process. Well done, Jeff Zucker.

Bill Carter of NYTimes has posted the latest this evening. There is a possible solution at hand whereby Leno could start after the news at 11:35pm for a 30 minute monologue show, pushing Conan to 12:05pm and Fallon pushed later. Oh God, my head hurts. I just want Johnny Carson to come back to life and kick someone's ass big time.

I interned and ultimately worked at NBC when it was the number one network. Golden Girls, Cosby, Seinfeld, were highly desired shows by local affiliates and O&O's. Brandon Tartikoff, a talented executive who dealt with his own flops from time to time (Hello Larry!), was head of programming and knew how to turn brass into gold. Today, the network is a mess. Patching up the leaky holes in the late night line up is not going to save anyone.

I'm sure there will be more to come in days ahead.

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