Forget Leno and O'Brien, is NBC helping itself?

by Paul William Tenny

jay-leno-picketing.jpgRather than bore you with more cheap opinion about the Leno/Conan situation -- which you can get everywhere -- I'd like to ignore those two people as individuals for the time being, so that I can ask a simple, important, and revealing question. Is any of this good for NBC?

The answer is mostly no.
While this is a step in the right direction by opening up the 10PM time slot for scripted programming again, which is something that I said NBC desperately needed to do, it doesn't help them anytime soon because you can't just snap your fingers and have five new shows to fill the newly created gap. There's also the strong possibility that NBC will load up on illiterate programming (er "reality" programming) and more terrible remakes like Bionic Woman.

I think there's a very good chance that this SNAFU will end up costing them Conan, or a really big paycheck to keep him (bigger than he got for the Tonight Show), neither of which is something that NBC needs. At this point Conan has upside while Leno doesn't, and yet Conan will cost more than Leno to keep at this point. You have to believe that.

Ben Silverman Jeff Zucker put NBC in an impossible position when they decided to promote Conan and still try to keep Leno. There was no way that the network could recover from that mess without bleeding badly once the contracts were signed. The current juggling act is another sign that neither Zucker nor whoever replaced Silverman really understand that. They are still trying to "win" this, somehow.

Moreover, there's no guarantee that Leno's new half-hour show will draw the same numbers as the Tonight Show under his brand, or even what Conan was doing. This feels too much like ordering a new series, shooting a few episodes, and then forcibly changing out the show runner before a single episode has aired. Far too often once you've lost the initiative, you've lost the game.

But ultimately NBC is going in the right direction (sort of) and this is a badly needed step towards being competitive (as in actually trying). It's downright great news for writers, actors, and a whole bunch of below-the-liners that will now have job opportunities coming up.

I've also heard that NBC is going back to doing traditional "up fronts", with May 17th being the day they'll announce their schedule to advertisers. I fully intend to cover the up fronts this year as I did a couple of years ago, so look out for that in the coming months.
in Television


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