NBC Universal Chairman of Television Entertainment Jeff Gaspin recently announced that the network was planning to shake up their late evening schedule. Because of the poor performance of The Jay Leno Show, the network plans to cut that program to 30 minutes and insert it between the local news and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.
The Tonight Show would shift to 12:05am (making it the Tomorrow Show?) and Jimmy Fallon would start at 1:05am. Gaspin expressed that he wants to keep all three hosts at the network.
Understandably, O’Brien isn’t happy with this plan and has released a statement explaining his position.
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.
So, it appears that the ball is in the network’s court.
If they go ahead with their plans, it sounds like O’Brien will quit and Leno will head back to the Tonight Show. Leno will have to start rebuilding the audience and NBC will have lost O’Brien. This is the scenario that the network was trying to avoid when they made the deal six years ago to give O’Brien the Tonight Show.
Alternatively, the NBC brass could back down and keep the late night schedule the way it has been for so many years. They could offer Leno a spot on their primetime schedule for one or two nights a week but it doesn’t seem likely that Leno would accept that and the local affiliates might not like it either.
Ultimately, it seems that NBC is going to lose either Leno or O’Brien over this debacle. Based on the growing negative public opinion, they should let Leno walk. He’s far less likely to go to a competitor and, if he supplants O’Brien, the anti-Leno backlash will only grow.
What do you think? Who should stay and who should go?
Image courtesy NBC.