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Conan and Leno

Updated on December 3, 2012
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NBC Late Night-What A Mess

NBC, a network which has been on the decline for years has had two things to be proud of.

A few decent comedies, and their late night lineup.

Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien were the Late Night Tandem that gave NBC their identity.

Previous hosts at Tonight Show have been legends.

Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Leno and now Conan O'Brien.

In 2004, NBC were in negotiations with both Leno and O'Brien and at that time they made what would be seen as a terrible mistake. They set a date of 2009 for Leno to retire from the show and for O'Brien to take over. At the time, Leno was the king of late night, and I am sure they thought 2009 is a long way off.

As 2009 rapidly approached, Leno was just as popular as ever, and he was reluctant to retire. His managers were looking for a solution that would keep one of the most popular entertainers of the decade in front of audiences.

There were various rumors that ABC and Fox both wanted Leno, and NBC decided they had made an error by creating such a popular free agent. They proposed Leno do a show during primetime, with a rough outline of the old tonight show bits, with some new things added in.

NBC said they didn't expect to do well with the show, but the low cost of producing such a show would offset the lower advertising revenues. In making this move, they worried a lot of affiliates that were dependent on 10pm dramas to deliver them an audience for their 11pm news.

Unfortunately, their fears were soon realized when ratings for their newscasts dropped drastically, and towards the end of 2009 many affiliates were threatening to pull the Leno show off air on their stations.

In early January 2010, it was decided that NBC would cancel Leno's Prime Time Show and move him to back to Late Night.

Because of promises made to Conan O'Brien in his contract, this set off several circumstances.

A.Conan could quit the Tonight show, and basically get paid his full salary to do nothing for the next 5 years

B. Conan could follow Leno at midnight with the Tonight Show

C. Conan could go to another opportunity with another network, with NBC having to make up any pay differential.

Who wins in this situation? I don't think NBC wins at all. They may be paying most of Conan's salary to do a show that will directly compete with Leno.

Many people have believed that O'Briens ratings have something to do with the situation at NBC. I really don't think that figured in. They had just made promises to both of their premier hosts, and got caught up when the things that were hoped to not happen did.

Best of Conan


Well, now it is official. Conan has done his last Tonight Show.

He negotiated a really good deal for him, in which he is basically paid for the term of his contract, and also his staff received severance pay.

Jay Leno will return to the Tonight Show March 1st, and Conan is free to begin a show on a competing network on September 1st. According to some sources, talks are now underway with Fox, which would seem to be the most likely place for Conan to land, barring a change of heart by ABC regarding Jimmy Kimmel, or some unexpected decision to retire by David Letterman.

Conan O'Brien will very likely come out of this better than he would of if NBC had kept things status quo. NBC has been a network on the decline for some time, and it isn't likely to get better anytime soon.

What is most shocking is the horrible decisions made by NBC management. I don't know how anyone could enter into a contract with them expecting them to honor the conditions.

According to some news reports, there are several celebrities that say they will never appear on the Tonight Show again because of Conan's ouster. That remains to be seen how long that will last when the focus of most late night show guests is the promotion of their latest movie,  book or other pet project.

Update # 2

Conan is now on his tour around the country, and he has signed a contact with TBS to do a late night show for them.

If I understand it right, George Lopez pitched the idea to Turner execs, and Conan agreed, only after verifying with Lopez that it was okay to move Lopez's show back one hour.

This will put Conan on the air in the same timeslot as Jay Leno, at least for 1/2 hour per show/ It is expected that Conan's show will run at 11pm and then Jay comes on at 11:30.

Other changes with Jay Leno's show. The bandleader, Kevin Eubanks is leaving, and the bandleader from American Idol will replace him.

Who Should Do the 11:30 Timeslot on NBC

See results


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    • puter_dr profile image

      Mike Bouska 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      I look forward to Conan's new show starting in November. One negative of the move to TBS, people will have to have cable to see the show. At least TBS is in most cable systems basic tier

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 7 years ago from Wisconsin

      This kind of got its legs when Fox vetted O'Brien. I think when all is said and done we could actually see O'Brien moving on...

      Perhaps Leno and O'Brien should get together and both leave what is obviously a failing network.

    • puter_dr profile image

      Mike Bouska 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      It is an idea, but I am sure it would cause the same unrest by the NBC affiliates that sunk Leno. They want a broad demographic delivered for the 11pm local news. Also, by Conan's contract, he is to host the Tonight show, and I doubt he wants to take that show to 10pm.

      The NBC execs that struck this deal in 2004 just assumed that Jay Leno would want to retire when 2009 hit, which really wasn't the case. Besides being a car nut, he is a major work-a-holic. In the 17 years he hosted the show, he only called in sick one day. He never had guest hosts like Carson did almost weekly. Jay agreed to the succession plan that NBC proposed at that time because he didn't want to see something happen to Conan like the situation that occurred with himself and David Letterman.

      Basically the execs in 2004 loaded a gun that was pointed at Leno and the current management at NBC and forced them to do something to make it work.

      What I would have loved to see happen would have Leno come in after the Late Show, into the spot the Tom Snyder occupied for so many years. Carson Daly has withered and died pretty much in that spot. They have Daly signed to a long term contract, and they want to keep him around for stuff like their New Years programming.

      That or I wish the never would have signed Jimmy Fallon for the Late Show. Leno could have slid to that time slot and Conan take the 11:30

    • Shady Sally profile image

      Shady Sally 7 years ago from MidAmerica

      Why don't they put Conan at 10PM (Pacific time)? He has a younger audience, he's very couldn't hurt, right? I feel certain 'the right guy' could make the 10pm time slot a success as a comedy/talk show. I don't know why Leno seemed to dissolve into nothingness at that time slot...but why not give Conan a try? NBC would still have the low cost of this type of show, and wouldn't be irritating one of their best talents? Whatcha think?