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January 16, 2010
Jimmy Fallon may be the big winner of the late night talk show in-fighting. With Conan O’Brien out of the picture, and Jay Leno likely to retire within a few years, Jimmy may be the heir apparent to the coveted Tonight Show. At the very least, the viewership of NBC late night will be less diluted.
Conan O’Brien may be a net winner as well, if he can land at Fox or another network. Conan was set up to fail at NBC and should do well in a better situation.
Jeff Zucker of NBC should have foreseen how his big experiment of moving Leno to 10:00 PM would have failed. Conan’s ratings took a 68% dive (6.5 Million viewers to 2.1 Million) not because the Tonight Show was so bad and Conan suddenly became a lemon, but rather because his viewership was cannibalized by the 10:00 PM Leno show. In addition, viewers are loyal and many migrated to Leno without being willing to adopt a new guy. Conan did not have a fighting chance. These are basics of “old media” broadcast TV that Zucker and crew should have known.
Could it be that Zucker is not the brightest person in the world and just weaseled his way up the ladder riding on the success of Seinfeld and Friends shows of the 90’s? No. Impossible.
Conan’s lawyer shares some blame as well. Given that his move to 11:30 was all about the “time slot”, as was the interrelated Jay Leno time slot, how is it conceivable that Conan’s contract did not address the possibility of fickle TV executives changing things around? Perhaps Conan simply did not have much leverage years ago when the deals were made.
The lesson being taught on a nightly basis now, as the talk show hosts display the dysfunction common within TV-land, is that broadcast TV is a terminal patient with “6-months to live”. Most executives from the “old media” world are inbred cronies with no hope of radically changing practice to take advantage of the “new media” Internet programming coming to your living room soon.