Late Shift 2: Electric Boogaloo
In the New York Times today, Bill Carter finds NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol clearly on Team Jay, saying,
"What this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan." Executive Leaps to Leno’s Defense.
But how much of Conan's woes at the Tonight Show are caused by the creative failure of the Jay Leno Show at 10 PM?
Tucked away in this story from Joe Adalian at The Wrap is the one fact that I've been looking for, that Conan's Tonight Show is actually outperforming Leno's Tonight Show, when you account for the massive fall-off of lead-in: Ebersol: Conan 'Chicken-Hearted, Gutless' | The Wrap: "O'Brien's down from the Leno era in the adults 18-49, losing Leno's 15 percent advantage over Letterman. But local news numbers have dropped between 20 and 30 percent since Leno shifted to 10, which means O'Brien is actually not dropping as much as his lead-in."
Even though Leno hosted the Tonight Show on a low-rated network last year, NBC's slightly more creatively interesting 2008-09 schedule provided a much stronger lead-in to the late local news and The Tonight Show than the 5 night per week black hole of suck that is the Jay Leno Show.
But why do we care so much about The Tonight Show?
Firstly, it is the most established late night show and during the Carson era, it was the only late night talk show that mattered. Viewers have a relationship as much with the tradition and establishment of a show. Millions of Americans find something comforting about routine and being able to watch The Tonight Show while settling in to sleep. And given Leno's popularity, we can only assume that for many people funny isn't a necessary component of a comedy show.
Secondly, even though NBC is by far the least popular network of the four, it may still be the one with which television viewers have the most personal connection. NBC has a much more specific nexus with its location at 30 Rockefeller Center. Because The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Channel 4 News, Saturday Night Live, Late Night and (fictionally) 30 Rock are all based there, there's a feeling that NBC is an actual location with physical place and staff that all works together rather than a bunch of shows that happen to occupy the same frequency allocation on a transmitter. Secondly, more of its shows are long-running brands that have maintained the same core identity for so long that they have become institutions. Meet The Press is the longest running television show in worldwide broadcasting history, having been on the air continually since 1947. The Today Show has been on since 1952. The Tonight Show has aired continually since 1954. Saturday Night Live has aired since 1975 and Late Night since 1982. Only in two areas (evening news on CBS) and newsmagazine (60 Minutes)) do any of its competitors have longer running institutions than NBC.
Conan put his talk show up for sale on Craigslist.
What happened the last time NBC threatened to replace a Tonight Show host with another host from its network? In 1992, Bill Carter reported for the New York Times, Jay Leno Criticizes NBC On 'Tonight' Cliffhanger. We all know how that turned out.
It seems that Jimmy Kimmel is not a Leno fan. He did his Tuesday night show as Leno and then went direct as a guest on Leno's show:
Myles McNutt, Cultural Learnings, Betrayal at NBC, Colon, What REALLY happened with my Late Night Show, Question Mark, by Conan O’Brien
Anne Helen Petersen, celebrity gossip, academic style, Team Conan: Nice Guys Finish First. Okay, well, kinda.
Lawrence Ebert, IP Biz, "The Tonight Show" controversy: do trademarks have a temporal dimension?. I'd say that since it has always aired after the late local news, The Tonight Show has come to mean NBC's leadoff flagship and least-late of its late night shows.
James Poniewozik, Time Tuned In, Jay Leno: Seabiscuit or War Admiral