Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Conan O'Brien Rejects NBC--Leno Will Get Back "The Tonight Show"

It looks like NBC is going to do what I suggested in an earlier post, but not because they want to do it. Yesterday, Conan O'Brien basically told NBC to "take a hike" with its plan to move Jay Leno back to 11:35 p.m. for 30 minutes, followed by The Tonight Show at 12:05 a.m. In a heartfelt but very carefully crafted public statement, O'Brien said that by moving The Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. from a time period where it's been for almost 60 years, it will effectively no longer be The Tonight Show, and he won't be a party to that.

According to NBC, its contract with O'Brien doesn't specify at what time The Tonight Show has to run, so the network is completely within its contractual rights to move the show without having to pay O'Brien his kill fee. However, O'Brien is making the argument (and his lawyers would make the argument if it ever got to court) that having The Tonight Show on after the local news is a multigenerational institution with U.S. television viewers, and that by moving "The Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m. and putting another entertainment program in front of it, O'Brien's show will be "The Tonight Show" in name only.

The trade press says that all that remains is for NBC to negotiate a cash settlement with O'Brien and an agreement on how long he'll have to stay off the air before he can work for a competitor. It's fairly clear that barring some other major event, O'Brien's last show as the host of The Tonight Show will be February 11th, the same night that "The Jay Leno Show" goes off the air. Leno will take over again as the host of The Tonight Show after the end of the Winter Olympics.

I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of O'Brien's Tonight Show, but I was even less of a fan of Jay Leno, who seems to believe that you can never dumb your talk show down enough for the audience. I'm not happy about the outcome, but NBC (and its acquirer, Comcast) has to be even less happy. No one in negotiations with NBC in the future is going to trust that the network will think through or stand by its decisions.
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