There are times when I wish I were still writing a blog and not just twittering constantly (@cashpeters), because I have so much to say about the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien debacle crisis mess disaster that’s engulfed NBC.
Mainly because it reminds me yet again of what spineless weasels many TV executives are. If you’ve ever met one you’ll know. All too often, there’s no backbone, no balls, no vision, no creativity worth speaking of. All they care about is making money and keeping their jobs, and every bad decision they make – which in NBC’s case runs into what I’ll loosely describe as ‘a lot’ – is accompanied not by apologies or serious attempts to do the right thing and resolve issues decently, but by a mad scramble to save as much money as possible and to make sure the top brass still have their jobs once it’s blown over.
I had a TV show a couple of years back. Oddly, it was cancelled prematurely for many of the same reasons that Conan O’Brien has raised for refusing to do The Tonight Show at 12.05am (although my executives were slightly better than most, I must admit). Anyway, Conan was just getting into his stride, then, seven months in, those weasels at NBC caved and decided to give Jay Leno his old timeslot back. They wouldn’t be able to call it The Tonight Show, though, because if they did, they’d have to pay Conan about $45 million for depriving him of his gig, which is a colossal amount of money to waste – although they could save the same amount simply by firing all the executives who had a hand in these shenanigans and taking back any bonuses, stock options, or pensions they had coming. But no, to save money, they elected to do the spineless thing: give Jay half an hour, then Conan an hour, then Jimmy Fallon another hour, then Carson Daly the hour after that. One rubbish move after another.
“It’s just business,” Jeff Zucker said to Charlie Rose the other night during an interview.
No it isn’t. It’s showbusiness, sure; shows must make money. But you’re taking a wonderful creative medium and making it ALL about money. That’s why you keep putting on terrific shows, then cancelling them before they get a foothold. And that’s why there’s so much unadulterated crap on our screens. Once it becomes all about the money, you cheapen everything beyond rescue, and are destined to wreck the entire network. Oh, wait -didn’t you already do that?
As Chez Pazienza writes so magnificently on the Huffington Post today, “Somewhere along the line network executives — particularly and ironically Jeff Zucker, who was named CEO of NBC TV in 2005 and then CEO of the NBC Universal empire in 2007 — decided that cash would be the only consideration, that it could be amassed without even earning it by means of great shows and a consistently above the board news operation at the highest levels of management, and that the rise of cable and non-traditional media provided the perfect excuse for making this kind of major paradigm shift. The shareholders likely thought Zucker was brilliant for expanding NBC’s properties across several platforms then turning each into a giant promotional machine for the others until “NBC product placement” was all any NBC show or network was good for; for hiring a worthless, self-obsessed hack like Ben Silverman to dumb down prime time; for bringing in bags of money while slashing costs, culminating in the cynical for-profit-only ploy that put Jay Leno in prime time five nights a week. Unfortunately, while get-rich-quick schemes tend to work well in the short-term, they can be devastating long-term — and Zucker’s not so myopic that he shouldn’t have realized this about the business model he’d adopted. There was no meat in the tasty-looking sandwich he was serving day after day, and with the collapse of the Leno show, the impending unceremonious exit of Conan O’Brien and the P.R. cataclysm both have caused for the network, almost everyone, maybe even the mighty shareholders looking down from Olympus, can now see that.” (Read the full piece HERE)
Letterman really has it right in this clip.
And, because he has an axe to grind, here too.
So the situation as it stands right now is this:
- Conan is refusing to budge. He issued a statement saying as much. The Tonight Show should be at 11.35pm. It has been that way for the past fifty-odd years, why change now?
- People are stepping forward and ragging on Jay, saying what a scumbag he is, how he’s trampled people underfoot on his way to the top, or backstabbed them, or just done the dirty, while smiling and grinning and playing goofy and pretending he had no idea what was going on. His number may be up.
- Conan, due to low ratings, is damaged goods if he leaves. If he stays, it’s still not good. The overnight numbers for The Tonight Show last night, even with all this publicity going on, were appalling.
- Leno is damaged goods too. A failure in primetime. Back on The Tonight Show, it will be hard to look at him in the same way.
- Letterman is giddy with glee at Leno and NBC’s failure. Leno trampled on him to get The Tonight Show gig way back when – the snub was so epic that there was even a movie made about it – and Letterman clearly hasn’t forgiven or forgotten.
- This is the biggest embarrassment any TV network has faced in generations. And still no executives have been fired. Unless you count the appalling Ben Silverman, who was let go last year, apparently, too late to haul him over the coals for this mess.
- Writers and producers of primetime drama series are elated. They get their old 10pm timeslot back to produce shows Americans actually like. Jay is seen as a callous villain, someone who didn’t care about the welfare and fate of thousands of artists who lost their jobs. He’ll never recover from that.
- Jeff Zucker, the head of everything at NBC and presumably the guy Letterman is referring to when he uses the word ‘pinhead’, is, according to Nicki Finke, threatening to stop Conan going on air for the next 3.5 years as a punishment.
- The people are behind Conan.
- Howard Stern is due to go on The Tonight Show next week to slam Jay.
- Conan has been invited onto the Letterman show to slam Jay. Oh joy.
- Final update. Conan has a deal. He’s taking a multi-million dollar pay-off to quit the Tonight Show and get his ass over to another network in September, possibly Fox, while Jay Leno, whose stock is well down after this, returns to his old slot at 11.35pm. Let’s hope he tanks. He won’t, but we can still dream.
What I love most is that, while NBC favors Leno – who should be the one to leave – the public has been behind Conan all the way. There was even a grassroots campaign to keep him on The Tonight Show. It didn’t work, but ratings soared for a week or two and it was a great display of viewer power. Same way the Huffington Post is causing a real stir with its campaign to get Americans to withdraw their funds from the corrupt big banks and open accounts at smaller community banks instead. Finally, people power is stirring. A bandwagon is moving. It may be small, and this may only be about a stupid talk show on TV, but it’s indicative of something so much bigger. An impetus has been created, and once an annoyed public is on the move, it’s hard to stop them.
So, TV Swami he give The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien five magic carpets out of five, even though he never watches it, and he say YES to the mass firing of the spineless weasels in network (and cable) television. Let the janitors run TV for a while; they couldn’t do worse.