Back to the Late Shift

January 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Andy Ihnatko has a great post up that takes stock of the current kerfuffle in NBC’s late night and the historical background. Like him, I was a huge fan of The Late Shift, Bill Carter’s tell-all book about the last major battle back when Carson retired and it was Leno vs. Letterman for the Tonight Show crown.

Of course, Leno won that battle, and lost in ratings for a bit, only to come back and basically take the lead over Letterman for a good long time. Then Conan O’Brien got named the new Tonight Show host, Leno was given this disastrous 10 p.m. five-nights-a-week series, that series tanked hard, and NBC seems to think it can hit some big reset button and make everyone happy and get Leno back at 11:35 p.m. and then there will be dancing in the streets.


I’m highly skeptical, and I think that’s what’s going to be the ongoing disaster to watch here: Will this mythical Jay Leno fanbase who have had no interest in him at 10 p.m. suddenly return to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot to watch his show again? Why would they? Was it really that they just HAD to have Jay Leno at that specific time or they weren’t interested?

Just as a mess, I think it’s also done untold damage to Jay Leno’s “image,” such as it was. Sure, he was #1 in 2004 when the “Conan gets Tonight in 2009” scheme was hatched, but as Andy points out, he went along with it and seems to have done so happily. Now he’s stuck in a bad timeslot doing a bad show that no one is watching, and his response is to act like he’s being somehow wronged by a strategy he went happily along with until it turned against him? Meanwhile, Conan seems to have gained universal support as far as I’ve seen, approaching the situation with class and restraint and humor.

You also have to wonder, overall: Does The Tonight Show matter anymore, and if so, how? Ratings have gone down with Conan, but his audience may not be solely the eyeballs that Nielsen ticks off. All he needs is one good viral bit on Hulu to ignite his awareness beyond where it is now. Or are his viewers like me and not making it till 11:35, but happy to DVR the show to watch on the weekends or in the early evening?

And how does this address the true issue, which is that NBC’s 10 p.m. timeslot has become a desperate graveyard of abysmal ratings? Obviously canceling Leno at 10 is a good idea at this point, but how does fucking up late night at the same time help anybody but NBC, who I guess gets to avoid paying out any contract penalties, but would I think also lose a shitload of money by continuing their ratings tailspin, now not just in prime-time but in late night as well?

Anyway. I fucking hate Leno. He’s a sucking hole of comedy failure. He needs to get off the airwaves. Read Andy’s piece, it’s more articulate than I could ever be.



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