It wasn’t so long ago that NBC and Jay Leno promised Conan O’Brien the “Tonight Show” as it was the only way that the network could keep him from moving to Fox or CBS. It certainly wasn’t that long ago (seven months to be exact) that Conan took over the Tonight Show slot and Leno was moved to primetime even though the original plan had him retiring from late night programming. All that came to end this week as NBC has reportedly decided to let the growingly popular Conan O’Brien go and move Leno back to the same show that he gave up less than a year ago.
Ironically, even though Conan is the only one being “fired,” the late night debacle is everyone’s fault but his.
The original plan was to have take over Leno’s show when he planned to retire last year. Leno, however, didn’t want to leave and NBC did not want to see him move to another network. Although all of the experts warned them against doing it, NBC could not resist the idea of saving countless millions by putting Leno on in primetime to take up the time that NBC would otherwise have to pay five different shows for.
Although they saved plenty of cash, NBC affiliates were beyond upset with how low Leno’s ratings were compared with more expensive primetime programming that used to occupy the time slot, even on the fourth-place ranked NBC. Affiliates began to threaten to drop Leno’s show because the ratings for their local newscasts were tanking.
NBC decided to try to do the most logical thing from a business perspective. Unfortunately, this also turned out to be the worst thing to do from a moral, ethical, PR, and any other kind of persepective.
NBC wanted Leno to move back to his old timeslot at 11:35. Although Conan would keep the “Tonight Show” on principle, the show would move to 12:05 A.M., no longer “tonight.”
Unwilling to put the final nail in the coffin of The Tonight Show, Conan refused and now appears to be headed to Fox as NBC has decided that Jay Leno (and the few years that he has left in broadcasting) is more valuable to them than Conan.
O’Brien will receive a hefty payout and will likely be headed elsewhere as NBC does not want to pay Conan the remainder of his contract to keep him from competing with them. Leno is reportedly moving back to the Tonight Show later this year (no date has been set) and Conan is expected to end his tenure as the host of the Tonight Show next week.