NBC pushed out the wrong man

by Paul William Tenny

Lay Leno and Conan O'BrienI wrote what amounted to an op-ed as a guest post for Alex Epstein's blog a little over a month ago, laying out what NBC needed to do to become competitive again. At the bottom of that list but also most important -- and the thing that got my post taken down over there temporarily (something I supported given the circumstances) -- was my saying that every NBC exec needed to be fired, starting with Jeff Zucker.

It's kind of funny, because it's not like there were a lot of people willing to call for Zucker's head even with everything that has happened over the past few years. Some were, certainly, but like me they were mostly inconsequential voices.

The situation that NBC finds itself in is entirely the consequence of the management failures that I wrote about back in December.

The truly odd part of all of this, though, is that Zucker is actually doing what I said he should do. Mostly.

Leno enables NBC to pretend that it's playing a different game than everyone else, and if that's the way they want to do it, fine, but they should quit and find something else to do.

That move was a classic blunder. The only thing Leno's new show is doing -- or trying to do -- is temporarily stop NBC from losing more ground, but it does nothing to gain back anything they've lost. If that mentality is prevailing within NBC's highest levels of management, then everyone needs to be fired.

And my solution? New scripted shows, which meant:

If that means pulling Leno off the air while still paying out the rest of his contract, so be it. It happens every single year in sports.

Which is true. In baseball the contracts are guaranteed, so if a player isn't working out and you can't put him on the field, he still gets every dime that is owed to him. If necessary, teams have been known to essentially pay someone to sit on the bench. At that time I didn't know how much it would cost to bench Jay Leno, and it never entered my mind to bench Conan O'Brien -- and I still have no idea about Leno -- but if it was in O'Brien's territory, then we're talking anywhere from $30-60 million.

Seems like a bit much for Leno, and I figured it would be less to push Leno off the cliff than O'Brien.

Well, Zucker pulled the trigger and it looks like O'Brien is going to be paid by NBC about $30 million dollars to sit on the bench (go across the street and make money for FOX), just like the morons did with Letterman who is now immune to these kinds of shenanigans because a part of his deal with CBS is that he would own his show. In the end that may work out better for O'Brien if he gets that kind of deal, and I'm sure that he will, while Leno will be stuck with a damaged brand that he doesn't own and can't control.

And just what does this get for NBC other than five new hours of schedule that they'll undoubtedly use for reality, rather than scripted shows (because they really are that stupid)?

Not much. Leno won't be around for more than another 5-6 years I'd guess, unless he wants to retire from the Tonight Show and then immediately die of old age. There's no telling if the ratings will ever recover to where they were before O'Brien took over, and NBC is losing $30 million bucks that it badly needs to spend on new shows.

If the Tonight Show under Leno doesn't immediately improve then it can and should be Zucker's head to roll next.

Honestly this was a true no-win scenario, NBC was destined to bleed and suffer the moment that Zucker let this mess happen. Once the contracts were signed their collective fate was sealed. If this isn't the bottom of NBC's fall, it'll certainly do until the bottom gets here.

in Television


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