No matter if you’re on Team Conan or Team Leno, we can all agree that NBC has serious problems. The Jay Leno Show experiment is a big flop and, though the network seemed okay with its low ratings (likely because of the relative low expense), the NBC affiliate stations weren’t. Their local newscasts were being hurt by the poor lead-in.
The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien got off to a good start but the ratings quickly dropped. As a result, the Tonight Show is being regularly beaten or tied by Late Show with David Letterman. During Jay Leno’s rein, Tonight had a big lead over the Late Show for more than a dozen years. The peacock network was hoping that O’Brien would attract a bigger percentage of the 18-49 demographic but it hasn’t happened.
The O’Brien camp’s argument is that the new Tonight has had a poor lead-in and that they’ve not been given enough time to establish the show. After all, Leno’s Tonight wasn’t an immediate success and the network was patient.
But apparently, time is a luxury that NBC either does not have or is not willing to give. As a result of pressure from the affiliates, and likely because of the upcoming Comcast purchase, NBC is cancelling O’Brien and return Leno to Tonight.
TV Guide has confirmed that NBC has re-signed Leno to host The Tonight Show. The details are apparently still being worked out but O’Brien’s final show could come as soon as January 22nd. The show was already scheduled to be on hiatus the following week.
Barring any last minute changes, Leno will return to Tonight once NBC finishes its coverage of the Winter Olympics.
What’s next for O’Brien? Reportedly, O’Brien’s exit deal won’t prohibit him from immediately going to a competitor. So, he’ll likely end up doing a new late night show for another network — the scenario that NBC tried to avoid by setting up the Tonight deal six years ago.
At one time, it would have seemed like a done deal that O’Brien would be heading for ABC. But the alphabet network has been having some success with their own late night schedule and aren’t interested in changing. Earlier this week, ABC chief Steve McPherson said that he has no plans to change their current lineup.
O’Brien’s other big option is FOX, now headed by former NBC boss Kevin Reilly. Official talks between O’Brien and any network can’t begin until he’s released from his NBC contract but it’s believed there is serious interest. O’Brien’s humor meshes better with FOX’s image and younger demographic so the two could be a very good fit. Some affiliate stations aren’t pleased by the possibility though because, right now, they’re airing syndicated programming after their newscasts and doing well from the ad revenue.
What do you think? Where should O’Brien go? How long will it take him to get back on the air with a new show? Will you be watching?
Image courtesy NBC.